(RQT) character/state/comment

Jim Croft jrc at ANBG.GOV.AU
Tue Dec 21 08:35:56 CET 1999

>Who thinks global state lists for something like shape (already
>separated into 2D-shape, 3D-shape), texture, smell, color, are
>possible and useful?

Long answer: The key word here is 'global'.  Comprehensive state lists are
obviously possible and useful as people create and use them all the time
within their discipline.  Many of the terms are shared across disciplines,
reflecting common usage or common greek/latin derivation.  But a
mathematician's or engineers concept of what is acceptable as round,
cylindical, elliptical, linear, pentagonal, etc. is very different to a
biologists (although they would probably understand what we mean).

But I think the pressure against achieving global state-lists are
historical, political and sociological more than technical.  Biologists
tend not to work across taxonomic disciplines and carry the lexicons
backwards and forwards, and major and minor differences in descriptive
practice and terminology evolve.  Botanists, entomologists, icthyologists
all describe shapes of flat structures (scales, leaves, petals, wings,
fins, etc.) and I suspect there are differences in how they do this (but
not working across disciplines will never be sure), and neither discipline
is going to want give up their traditional practices - (why does the word
'biocode' keep coming into my mind here?).  In any case, does it really
matter that different disciplines use words for the same thing?

It may be possible to to achieve consistency within a discipline but even
there I have doubts - who is going to adjudicate on what is the correct
terminology for the circular/round/orbicular thing, and if it is not one
thing, how do all the things that are sort of like it differ.  And having
adjudicated, who is going to enforce the decision, and interfere with the
freedom of of expression, the right to vote for the multinational company
of your choice, the right to bear arms and so on.  As I said, political,
and I do not think we want to go there.

A gut feeling is if we go down the universal lexicon/terminolgy route a lot
of biologists will go round in ever decreasing concentric circles,
eventually vanishing up their own centroid never to be seen again.

Each discipline and discipline with discipline can and will develop and use
terminology/lexicons/state-lists that biologists and information managers
have to work with.  That is the reality that we are given - I periodically
try to change reality to make information management easier, but inevitably
get beaten to pulp rather than thanked.

What we can aim for is a data structure that enables disciplines and
biologists to use terminology they are comfortable with, storing and
documenting it in an unambiguous form that does not inhibit flexibility.
DELTA and like programs allow users to do this now: by changing one word, I
can change 'frond' to 'leaf', which it is, everywhere (but I like the word
'frond', so I won't)...  Thus data can be converted and integrated later
when the public realizes the true value of my lifetimes's work on the
monograph and combined interactive key to the marine pteridophytes and
benthic butterflies of the continental Antarctica.

Short answer: no.  Most important is a sound informatiom model and
corresponding data structure.  If we get it right, the data will clean
itself up. :)

Jim Croft ~ jrc at anbg.gov.au ~ http://www.anbg.gov.au/people/croft.jim.html
ph 02-6246-5500 ~ fx 02-6246-5248 ~ GPO Box 1600 Canberra ACT 2601

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