Name for the standard

Jim Croft jrc at ANBG.GOV.AU
Wed Sep 17 17:25:34 CEST 2003

>This is the part I'm having trouble understanding.  What is being
>"Described" are characters....correct?

well, maybe... depends on how abstract you want to be...  but I think I
would be inclined towards recording characters and their states to describe
the main game: a taxon.   You can get there by describing specimens, but
you do not have to.

>While it is true that researchers
>have traditionally used character descriptions as a "short-hand" attempt to
>delineate taxonomic concepts;

Using the perspective above, character description is the tool and not the
work... Characters can be described in the absence of a taxon. A taxon can
be described by the aggregate of the characters/states (described
elsewhere)  it does (or does not) possess.

>the bottom line is that characters are
>intrinsically part of actual living, breathing (respirating) physical
>beings -- not the concepts (represented by names) that are intended to
>circumscribe a set of individual organisms deemed to belong to a common

At this point it is very easy to lapse metaphysical...  perhaps organs are
part of the organism but characters are an artificial human construct...  :)
[ Over the bottle of fine port one of us is going to win, we can solve this
one relatively quickly... ]

>When a taxonomist describes a character in the context of a taxon

[ Thinks... Do characters always have to be defined in the context of a
taxon? ]

>what is really being asserted is that the character as described is
>shared by the primary type specimen of the name used to represent the
>concept, as well as the primary type specimens of any/all names deemed to be
>synonymous, as well as a wide swath of other individual organisms, a tiny
>fraction of which have been collected and curated in Museums; the vast
>majority of which live out their lives in their natural environment.

This is probably quite a defensible assertion...  the fact that taxonomy
exists at all is that we can generalize like this...

>In my
>mind, characters belong to individual organisms -- to associate them
>directly with taxon concepts (by way of the implied existence of individual
>organisms that share the character) is merely a short-hand convenience.

Or,  the organ and its attributes belongs to an organism... the character
and its states belongs to the human who defined it...

>Maybe this is getting off track, but my basic point is that if "SDD" is to
>be qualified in any way, I think it should be qualified in terms of general
>biology, or biological objects; not necessarily taxonomy.

I agree - taxon description, documentation and identification, especially
as implemented in products such as Delta and Lucid, extends what we do far
beyond what could be considered taxonomy in the narrow sense.

>I agree...but in my optimized view of the data management world, I'd like to
>see characters linked with taxa via implied (if not real) specimens, even if
>no specific physical specimen can be cited.

yes - we have another project running here covering a key to Orchid
genera.  In this case we are not even scoring species level taxa, but we
are trying to cover the full range of variation in the genus and we are
recording which specimens have been used in this assessment so we can al
least go back and rescore if taxonomists change their minds (never! I hear
you say).   The argument is that if we actually scored the specimens all we
would have to do is recompile the key - nice, but unacceptably more work
for our budget...

>But if this is getting too
>philosophical for the issue at hand, I'll gladly step back to my previous
>status of quiet observer, so as not to clutter the list with tangential

but they are the best kind...

>(Standard for Description of Biological Objects)

or just DBO?   nothing like a TLA to make it sound as though you know what
you are doing...

>(Description of Biological Objects Markup Language)

or just BOML...

>(Biological Object Description Markup Language)

see previous...

>None very sexy, though...

seen worse...


~ Jim Croft ~ jrc at ~ 02-62465500 ~ ~

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