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

Chuck Miller Chuck.Miller at mobot.org
Thu Sep 8 22:12:01 CEST 2011

Regarding CollectionObject and Paul's comment "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."

CollectionObject in this case is the string/label applied to a particular class of data.  It exists only for data.  The fact that there are "collection objects" that are in the real world helps confuse these discussions that center on data entities, like a class called CollectionObject.  So, although there are millions of non-cataloged collection objects in the HUH, none of them could ever be included in a CollectionObject data class unless they were first digitized, databased, or cataloged.  So, I think defining a CollectionObject class to contain cataloged objects is valid.  

The overlap between the real, or worse mental, world and the data world does cause some confusion.  Not everything in the real world is actually captured in the data world and some may never be.  


-----Original Message-----
From: tdwg-content-bounces at lists.tdwg.org [mailto:tdwg-content-bounces at lists.tdwg.org] On Behalf Of Paul J. Morris
Sent: Thursday, September 08, 2011 1:17 PM
To: Steve Baskauf
Cc: tdwg-content at lists.tdwg.org
Subject: Re: [tdwg-content] Occurrences, Organisms, and CollectionObjects: a review

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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