[tdwg-content] A radical proposal for Darwin Core
jsachs at csee.umbc.edu
Tue Jun 25 04:39:07 CEST 2013
Thanks - responses below.
On Mon, 24 Jun 2013, Robert Guralnick wrote:
> Joel -- From an insider-outsider perspective, a couple quick comments:
> 1) Do you mean Darwin Core is frequently misunderstood by standards
> developers? Or do you mean Darwin Core is frequently misunderstood by
> people without specialized skills to read and understand standards?
Good questions. What most concerns me is that, amongst those who are
expressing occurrence data on the semantic web, there is a divergence of
opinion regarding the semantics of core Darwin Core terms.
> 2) I see the point that some clean-up would be useful but my view is that
> Darwin Core fulfills its intended purpose for most people who want to map
> their headers in a spreadsheet to a set of terms in the Core.
I think you're right. The question is, can we clarify the semantics of
existing terms in a way that will enable Darwin Core to be used
effectively on the semantic web, without breaking existing infrastructure,
and without altering the interpretations of existing Darwin Core records?
I think we should try.
> This support
> an ecosystem of data that has come available online over the last 15 years.
> I was talking to Tim Robertson, and I think the number is 3 records per
> second (per average) coming online via GBIF, the vast majority in Darwin
> Core format.
> 3) Is it enough to clean up Darwin Core somehow, wipe our hands and walk
> away? I guess maybe we could be sharper with term definitions. But is that
> the problem or is the problem that what we want to do with Darwin Core
> doesn't fit its history and intended use as an exchange format.
Most of the arguments and discussions I've seen on this list have involved
doing pretty basic things with Darwin Core - mainly representing
occurrences of organisms at particular times and places. We saw (or, at
least, I saw) a shift away from a specimen-centric point of view when the
rdfs:subClass backbone was removed from the dwctype vocabulary (previously
called the type hierarchy) circa 2010/2011. But the documentation
surrounding other parts of the standard have not caught up with this
shift. (This is, IMO, a source of confusion.)
> 4) I see the bigger challenge being how we grow more semantically
> meaningful representations that let us do new things
Yes - this is the bigger challenge! Clarifying whether an occurrence is a
category of information, a superclass of preserved specimen, a record of
an organism's appearance at a particular place and time, or all of the
above should be the easy part.
> (an example might be
> the Biocollections Ontology (BCO)) versus more limited things we do with
> Darwin Core.
> This is just my naive impression. I am not an expert in RDF or the
> semantic web.
No one is. (Well, maybe this one guy at MIT ...)
> Id like yet more clarity before we get into what might be an
> challenging task. Could we be even more focused?
Yes, we must be more focussed than simply saying "we'll clean it all up".
> Can we surgically repair
> the key things in DwC not do a "clean up"?
Possibly. Steve has been working tirelessly to do just that, and he
recently asked for suggestions on how to repair our fractured
understanding of dwc:occurrence. My suggestion is to tackle a few other
key terms while we're at it, in the context of a clarification of the
purposes of the two Darwin Core namespaces, and the status of other
> Best, Rob
> On Mon, Jun 24, 2013 at 1:45 PM, joel sachs <jsachs at csee.umbc.edu> wrote:
> Hi Everyone,
> Darwin Core remains poorly documented, occasionally
> inconsistent, and
> frequently misunderstood. (Does anyone disagree with that
> characterization?) I believe this is one of the reasons we're
> seeing a
> proliferation of overlapping and sometimes incompatible
> building on Darwin Core terms.
> One of the suggestions that came up on the TDWG-RDF mailing list
> is to
> have a clean-up-a-thon/document-a-thon for TDWG namespaces and
> terms. I
> suggest that, until such a clean up of Darwin Core occurs, TDWG
> accept no
> additions to the Darwin Core standard. There are several
> examples in
> support of my claim that we're building on a shaky foundation -
> an obvious
> one is that, as Steve is currently pointing out, there is no
> consensus on
> what constitutes a Darwin Core occurrence. (Can anyone name an
> instance of
> the class "http://rs.tdwg.org/dwc/terms/Occurrence"?)
> The clean-up-a-thon proposal was enthusiastically endorsed
> within the RDF
> group, but no one volunteered to organize it. I propose that we
> self-organize, and find a way to carve out two days at the
> coming meeting
> to hash out as much as we can, with a follow-on workshop if
> necessary. But
> first, I'd be interested to know - am I the only one who feels
> this way?
> I've said this before, but it bears repeating - Darwin Core is
> almost an
> excellent standard, and almost ideally suited to be the
> foundation for a
> semantic web for biodiversity informatics. I have great respect
> for those
> who were involved in its creation and continued curation - for
> their hard
> work, and clear thinking, and patience for people like me
> struggling to
> understand. But all that work, thought, and patience will be for
> if the gyre is allowed to widen much further.
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