so far ...

Susan B. Farmer sfarmer at GOLDSWORD.COM
Fri Nov 26 09:36:51 CET 1999

>> This is typical of the level of malpractice of those who seem to be taking the
>> running with this discussion. Can you imagine being so clumsy and foolhardly
>> with hard-won data?  I despair of this debate.
>Patience Nick - new lists take a while to settle down as participants
>try and establish a common agenda, and people strut personal favorite
>products and ideologies.
>Like Bernie, I am waiting for the discussion to focus itself.
>I had initially thought we were looking at a common and comprehensive
>(interchange?) format for biological descriptive data, perhaps
>involving an information model of the topic we are dealing with, and
>importantly, its boundaries.  But all too quickly we have got to the
>level of all things to all people end-products, software and a degree
>of daunting complexity that we could probably do without at this stage.

Putting my programmer hat on here -- this debate may seem endless;
but before one can define how data looks, one must have an idea of
what goes into it.  I have no more knowledge of what an entomologist's
needs are in that respect than he does of a botanists (or even of
a synantherologist to a bryologist).

If I'm going to define a group of objects to define the morphology
of my organisms (in my case of members of the Trilliaceae), I'll
have a small set.  If I want to make my program/definitions
useful enough to a vascular plant person (or anybody else who wants
to record data outside my tiny group of organisms), then there's a
whole nother set of definitions that I'll need to include.
I don't think that we're trying to get to the definition level --
especially not immediately (or at least I don't think so), but
for this kind of work I think a Data Dictionary would be a useful
thing to have available at some point.

The second point to consider is that all of the other standards have
their shortcommings.  This one will probably have its shortcommings
as well -- no standard is perfect.  We can't hope to address those
problems in this standard if we're not aware of the shortcommings
in the other ones.

>Approaching things from an 'if it aint broke dont fix it' point of
>view, is someone in a position to enunciate/tabulate exactly what it is
>we are trying to achieve and the shortcomings/limitations of exiting
>formats in reaching this goal?  Having done this we might be better
>able to partition things into managable and achievable lumps.  I was not
>at the Harvard meeting so I'm a bit reluctant to stick an oar in, but
>since when has ignorance been a reason not to have an opinion... :)
>All the suggestions of 'do it this way using this', while interesting
>and educational, are tending to obscure rather than clarify what it is
>we are tring to achieve.
>Well, I am getting a bit lost, and I love this data stuff...

Susan Farmer
sfarmer at
Botany Department, University of Tennessee

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