[tdwg-content] promulgating conspiracy theories is counterproductive

Blum, Stan SBlum at calacademy.org
Thu May 5 07:53:36 CEST 2011


There are no “TDWG Illuminati”; there is only a TDWG Executive Committee, which is elected every year as specified in the TDWG Constitution ( http://www.tdwg.org/about-tdwg/constitution/).  There is also a relatively simple TDWG process for establishing standards.  It begins with interest and task groups, and carries on through proposing and reviewing standards ( http://www.tdwg.org/about-tdwg/process/).  That process is relatively similar to other standards development processes in bottom-up, volunteer-driven, IT-oriented communities.  The only serious deviations from our process that I’m aware of recently are that the Executive Committee has not demanded that Interest and Task Group conveners update their charters annually, and has been slow in giving feedback to the conveners.  Those lapses are both due to a lack of effort (available time), NOT subjecting in-group (illuminati) to one set of rules and out-group people to another.   To paraphrase a familiar maxim:  never ascribe to malice, collusion, or conspiracy what can be explained by lack of organization, lack of effort, and miscommunication.

Also note that neither DsW: nor txn: have any standing in TDWG until they go through the process.  They are both “ignored” equally.  How could it be otherwise?

As you can see, getting people to agree about things that are both complicated and subtly different (like all the semantic web technologies) is VERY hard.

There are a couple of ways forward from the current state of affairs, though:  establish a project (number of participants > 1) to test alternative approaches; establish an interest/task group to draft a specification; even summarize the points made in this most recent round of posts.  I welcome ALL of this discussion, but email discussion on its own doesn’t create best practice specifications or standards.


On 5/4/11 9:39 PM, "Peter DeVries" <pete.devries at gmail.com> wrote:

Hi Steve,

I am not annoyed at you. I don't have a problem with you creating your ontology or our lively debates.

What is annoying is the pattern of the same idea being dismissed and reappearing under a different name and being accepted.

It is clear that decisions are made, but it is not clear how or by whom.

I jokingly refer to this as the TDWG Illuminati because the decision process seems so mysterious.

Why don't you look through what you wrote in the thread this week and then look over the GBIF KOS report.

Initially my work was characterized as

 "in the GeoSpecies project104 based on a small purpose-built ontology105 of mosquito-borne human pathogens."

Now it is not mentioned at all.

Do the authors of that report read the same TDWG emails that you do?

Are the directions of this group based on the merits of each individual's arguments and open debate or is something else going on?


- Pete

On Wed, May 4, 2011 at 10:13 PM, Steve Baskauf <steve.baskauf at vanderbilt.edu> wrote:

Peter DeVries wrote:

I also don't seem to understand why if someone can find some missing utility in existing vocabularies, and mints one starting with txn, it is seen by some as an act of heresy, while the minting a new vocabulary starting with dsw is not.

Heretical enough to be written out of the sacred scrolls?

Nobody else has come right out and said this, but I'm going to go ahead and say it because I really don't think the paranoia contributes to this discussion.  It isn't exactly clear to me who you think is the TDWG Illuminati is.  You  made the statement "TDWG Illuminati determined that indeed the current DarwinCore was not good for the semantic web and formed a group to create one" and I asked you what group you were talking about.  You did not answer that question.  Given the statement below I assume you think it includes me.  I have already told you that nobody in TDWG or anywhere else asked or suggested to Cam Webb and I that we develop Darwin-SW.  Cam (whom I've never actually met in person) suggested to me that we give it a try and we did.  Thus far I have not yet heard anyone, including me, suggest that it was heresy for you to create the txn ontology.  Likewise, I have not heard anyone officially associated with TDWG give any kind of "blessing" to dsw.  Actually, the fact that no one has come out on the list and said that some aspect of dsw was heresy doesn't actually mean that people aren't thinking that it is.  I was kind of expecting that somebody might.

It really borders on humorous that you suggest that I'm somehow a part of some TDWG conspiracy.  I have been to precisely one TDWG meeting and with one exception, that is the only time I've ever personally met anybody who regularly contributes to this list.  That one exception is Nico Cellinese, whom I've met on one other occasion.  In fact, the person whom I talked to the most at the meeting (other than Alexey Zinovjev who came with me to the meeting and was also a TDWG newcomer) was actually YOU.  I'm also pretty sure that the only person other than Nico who regularly contributes to this list that I've ever interacted with in any sort of collaborative way is Bob Morris on the Live Plant Image Group, and he as been largely silent in this discussion.  Actually, he did make one comment about dsw and I would characterize it as cautionary.  That hardly qualifies as a conspiracy to promote DSW.

If you would care to notice, DSW is not my first attempt at writing RDF.  My first attempt was the examples in my Biodiversity Informatics paper (https://journals.ku.edu/index.php/jbi/article/view/3664) and quite frankly, at this point I think those examples were not very good.  There were several actual mistakes that I made and I think that the overall approach that I was taking in modeling Occurrences was flawed.  If it turns out that people in the TDWG community find themselves agreeing with the DSW model (which I do not consider a certainty), it would not be because of a conspiracy.  It would be because I've probably spent dozens of hours (maybe even hundreds of hours) reading and trying to understand the points of view expressed by people in this community on the tdwg-content list and in papers and web posts that they've created.  With the exception of the IndividualOrganism class (which I'll take some credit for promoting) pretty much everything that I contributed to DSW were ideas that I've absorbed from the TDWG community, which were then molded by Cam's contributions to the collaboration.  If you will recall, last November Rich Pyle and I had what I suppose could be considered a somewhat bruising exchange on the list about the scope of the Individual class.  Although I did not agree with him at the time, I learned a lot from that exchange and in retrospect, I can see that his opinion was not wrong, it was just framed by the desire to meet different objectives with the class.  Cam and I actually attempted (in a somewhat feeble way) to incorporate Rich's perspective in the "alternative version" of DSW.

So my point is that if you want to promote the taxonconcept.org <http://taxonconcept.org> ontology as an ontology for general use by the community (which is certainly your right), then you need to be willing to subject it to critical analysis by the people you want to use it.  When you get criticism, you need to see that as an opportunity to improve your work, not as a conspiracy to destroy it.  Cam and I have requested a critical analysis of DSW from the community and I don't really think we've gotten enough of it yet to suit me.  If DSW has flaws (as it most certainly does), we will try to address those flaws and learn from the experience.  All you are going to accomplish by promoting a conspiracy theory is to cause people to not take you seriously.  That would be a shame because you have a lot of great ideas and have some of the most experience in the TDWG community at actually implementing LOD "in the wild".  You should take the fact that I took the time to wade through the taxonconcept.org <http://taxonconcept.org>  RDF to try to understand it and subject it to critical analysis as a compliment, not a threat.  I have already acknowledged that a lot of what I know about RDF are things that I learned from looking at your examples.


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