[tdwg-content] Occurrences, Organisms, and CollectionObjects: a review

Paul J. Morris mole at morris.net
Thu Sep 8 20:16:39 CEST 2011

On Thu, 8 Sep 2011 11:52:56 -0500
Steve Baskauf <steve.baskauf at vanderbilt.edu> wrote:
> >>  Being derived from an Organism is the minimal 
> >> requirement for a collection object.
> >>     
> Well, my point here wasn't that the collection object must be derived 
> from a SINGLE organism.  I don't see any reason why a collection
> object could not be an aggregate derived from several organisms. 

I wholly agree with your point.  My issue is with the phrasing of the definition (and not, I think, with your points at all): 

>Definition:	The category of information pertaining to persistent
>evidence that an organism existed (specimen, sample, image, sound,
>drawing, field notes, publication), including digital forms.

The word "an", in "evidence that an organism existed" implies to me that the intent is a one to one relationship between organism and collection object. 

> just as easily as the tree.  The actual point of my statement was
> that a CollectionObject that had no obvious connection to an Organism
> (such as an abstract painting in a museum) would be outside of the
> scope of DwC. 

There do exist a small class of collection objects in natural science collections that are similar to the abstract painting, we've got two entire collections of them here at Harvard in the glass flowers and the glass invertebrates, other examples include the Wards and Charles Knight dinosaur models.  

> > A short definition of a collection object might be: "a thing that
> > can be sent on loan from a collection". 
> This definition is problematic.  The large oak tree having the GUID 
> http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/vanderbilt/7-314 is a part of a
> physical collection (the Vanderbilt arboretum).  However, it cannot
> be sent on loan.  

Granted.  I'm always forgetting living collections.  

> The definition as it stands does not limit
> CollectionObjects to physical objects and I don't think is should be
> because the goal (at least I hope it's a goal!) is to allow things
> other than museum specimens to document organisms.  I would say a
> better definition is that a CollectionObject is a resource that has
> been cataloged and is being maintained as part of a collection. 

Resource maintained as part of a collection sounds like a description of a collection object, "has been cataloged" does not.  The vast majority of the 5 million or so collection objects in the Harvard University Herbaria have not been cataloged.  The vast majority of all specimens in the stratigraphic portions of paleontological collections have not been cataloged.  A heirarchical collection object consisting of a dry snail shell with one catalog number in one collection and soft parts in ethanol with a separate catalog number in another collection isn't is also problematic for associating a collection object with cataloged items.  Botanical duplicates likewise.  

> That
> would include any PreservedSpecimens, but would also include
> LivingSpecimens, Images, MachineObservations, etc.  If the history of
> the name "CollectionObject" is an impediment to people's
> understanding of what it means, then use a different name.  

Field notes, publications, and digital images fall outside the scope of the meaning of collection object.  (Though digital images might be derived objects derived from a collection object through a digital imaging preparation process).  Field notes tend to be seen as metadata about the collecting event, though they might be the only source of information about other observations.  

Voucher is perhaps a better term for the broader concept.  

> But I
> think then broadening the meaning to include all kinds of things that
> are maintained as persistent evidence is fine as long as the meaning
> of the term is documented clearly (which I think it is in John's
> definition). 

I don't agree.  Taking a term that is widely used for a central entity in relational models of natural science collections data, and expanding its scope to include concepts that are commonly held in distantly related entities is likely to cause confusion. 

Perhaps: Voucher: The category of information pertaining to persistent evidence for the existance of organisms that is held in a collection, including digital forms.  

Paul J. Morris
Biodiversity Informatics Manager
Harvard University Herbaria/Museum of Comparative Zoölogy
mole at morris.net  AA3SD  PGP public key available

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