[tdwg-content] Producing a global taxon register (was: ITIS TSNID to uBio NamebankIDs mapping)

dipteryx at freeler.nl dipteryx at freeler.nl
Sun Jun 5 21:05:26 CEST 2011

Van: Richard Pyle [mailto:deepreef at bishopmuseum.org]
Verzonden: zo 5-6-2011 19:14
> * a GTR - global taxon register - is something else entirely, at least
> if the term is taken literally. It would be indispensable if the purpose
> "to index all usages of all names in all sources" is to be realized.

Yes, that would be nice.  But as Tony indicated, that would be impractical
for the foreseeable future.  Especially when you consider that "all sources"
encompasses not only "all publications" (including popular books and
magazine articles, newspaper articles, etc., etc.), but also all unpublished
sources (museum specimen labels, field notebooks, personal correspondence,
etc., etc.).  The GNUB model is designed to accommodate any & all of these,
but a proactive attempt to populate it to that extent would represent an
unrealistic amount of effort.

     I don't know about that. Certainly, if you organize this top down 
     it would be a prohibitively massive undertaking. However, if 
     organized bottom up, it may be quite different; of course, coverage 
     would be uneven.
* * *

However, an enormous benefit would be achieved it a select subset of "all
usages of all names in all sources" was targeted.  For example, the first
priority for populating GNUB will be:

> a complete nomenclatural index
> (inventorying all nomenclatural acts), 

     This would not be a first step. The first step will be a complete 
     Checklist; likely, this will be ready years before a complete 
     nomenclatural index.
* * *

And the next step would be:

> moving towards
> lists of currently accepted names 

That is, capturing the specific usage instances for each that reflect a
modern taxonomic landscape.  Of course, there is more than one
interpretation of the "modern taxonomic landscape" (i.e., different opinions
about how to structure the HCAL). Therefore, you need a spectrum of modern
usage instances to capture all of the popular HCAL perspectives.

> Names and taxa are quite different things and they are interconnected
> in a complex way.

I don't think that the interconnection is all that complex. In the same way
that nomenclature and biology intersect at the type specimen, names and taxa
intersect at the Taxon Name Usage instance.  The analogy is reasonably good.
A scientific name is "anchored" to the biological world through the type
specimen. Likewise, a taxon concept is anchored to a name through a taxon
name usage instance.  Not all taxon name usage instances rise to the level
of an explicit or implicit taxon concept definition.  However, all taxon
concept definitions exist in the form of a Taxon Name Usage instance.

The problem, as Tony alluded to, is that TNU instances are so abundant that
it can be overwhelming to contemplate the TNU universe in its entirety.

     Not so sure if it is handy to refer to this as a universe, given that
     the components conflict, cluster, overlap, etc. 
* * *

Dave Remsen referred to TNUs as the "individual molecules" of taxonomy. When
we look at a physical object, we don't think of it in terms of an assemblage
of individual molecules; we abstract it to the entire object.  This is why
we have so many databases that focus on the HCAL -- it's much more direct to
capture the entire object (in this case, taxon concept), than to enumerate
all of the molecules that comprise it.  

     I agree that it is more direct, but its popularity will be because
     of the popularity of shortcuts, the desire for the One Truth or the 
     Latest Thing, or just laziness.
* * * 

But unlike physical objects and their constituent molecules, there are
"special" TNUs that stand out from all the rest.  Capturing a few of these
"special" TNUs will allow us to get most of the benefit in representing the
parts of the taxon concept we're interested.  As already noted, these
"special" TNUs include all the relevant nomenclatural acts for all of the
names that have been associated with that taxon concept, as well as the main
concept definitions (e.g., published taxonomic treatments that may or may
not carry nomenclatural acts with them).  In other words, unlike trying to
describe a physical object by enumerating its individual molecules, we can
capture the majority of our interest in taxon names and concepts by
enumerating only a small fraction of the TNUs (i.e., the aforementioned
"special" ones).

     Yes, the Law of Diminishing Returns applies. However, there are two 
     issues. Firstly, where to draw the line? Secondly, the marketing
     pitch. Anything that will offer, say, a 40% usability will be marketed
     as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and will cause further damage.


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