[tdwg-content] Proposed changes to Darwin Core

Steve Baskauf steve.baskauf at vanderbilt.edu
Wed Jul 23 14:10:13 CEST 2014

Thanks for bringing these issues up, Joel. 

To clarify the situation, the changes that have been proposed should be 
handled in accordance with the Darwin Core term change policy [1].  If 
I'm interpreting that policy correctly, the changes would fall in 
sections 3.3 or 3.4.  The proposed changes that redefine existing terms 
(like dwc:Occurrence) would be "Semantic changes in Darwin Core terms" 
(section 3.3) and the changes that create new terms (like 
dwc:LivingSpecimen) would be "Addition of Darwin Core term declarations 
to exisiting Darwin Core namespaces (section 3.4).   The exact procedure 
in both sections is a bit murky because it presupposes a functioning 
Technical Architecture Group (TAG) that judges the merit of the proposal 
and (at least in the case of 3.4) calls for a request for comments 
(RFC).  Historically, there has not been a functioning TAG, so John 
Wiecorek (shepherd of Darwin Core) has traditionally made the call for a 
30 day RFC on tdwg-content.  He hasn't done that yet, to my knowledge.  
I don't think that the Term Change Policy actually requires action by 
the Executive, but I think that in actuality it has made the final call 
since there hasn't been any TAG to do the job.

I have to say that I'm puzzled by the lack of motion on this proposal.  
The usual reason for failure of proposed changes is "lack of 
consensus".  However, in this case, there seemed (to me) to be 
widespread support for these changes at the Documenting Darwin Core 
workshop at the TDWG meeting in November.  In the discussions held in 
December by the ad hoc group (whose purpose was to hammer out the actual 
proposed definitions), there was a shocking degree of consensus about 
everything except for the name of the one class (organism/individual).  
So I don't understand why the proposed changes haven't gone to public 
comment months ago. 

The DwC RDF Guide [3] (which Joel mentioned) has similarly languished 
for a year now, having already undergone numerous revisions and having 
been endorsed by the task group that created it.  The only reason I 
haven't pushed harder on moving it forward is that it would need to be 
revised if the proposed DwC class changes were adopted.  So lack of 
progress on the proposed term changes is holding up progress on that as 

The real problem here is that the TDWG standards maintenance process is 
broken.  We need a clear and usable system that covers all of the TDWG 
technical standard vocabularies (i.e. DwC, Audubon Core, and any future 
ones).  This was discussed in detail in several sessions at the last 
TDWG meeting with some concrete proposals put on the table [4]. It was 
my impression that this issue was very high on the agenda of the 
Executive.  However, we are now nine month past that meeting and I 
haven't seen any visible signs that there has been any progress on this 
front.  Is TDWG actually a standards organization or not?  I'm not sure 


[1] http://rs.tdwg.org/dwc/terms/namespace/index.htm#classesofchanges
[2] doesn't currently exist in the dwc: namespace; it's in the dwctype: 
namespace, which we have proposed to deprecate
[3] https://code.google.com/p/tdwg-rdf/wiki/DwcRdf
[4] http://www.gbif.org/resources/2246 plus several in-person meetings 

joel sachs wrote:
> Hi John,
> On Tue, 22 Jul 2014, John Wieczorek wrote:
>> Hi Joel,
>> Is this meant to call everyone's attention to the issues?
> Yes, that is the purpose of this email. My understaning of the process 
> for changing the standard is that proposals are entered into the Issue 
> Tracker, followed by a 30 day period of public comment, followed by 
> the editor bringing the proposals to the executive for ratification. 
> So, technically, tdwg-content does not need to be notified prior to 
> ratification. (Is that correct?) Regardless, as much as I want to see 
> our proposals ratified, I don't want it to happen under the radar, and 
> so thought it made sense to inform the list.
>> To elicit further
>> commentary? Or to make a specific proposal for action?
>> I suspect it is to put forward your positions on issue 205. If that is
>> correct, I propose bringing those positions here for discussion.
> I don't mind airing my positions on Issue 205, but would prefer not to 
> lead off with that. My questions and suggestions regarding the 
> proposed dwc:Organism class are not as important as our proposal to 
> deprecate the dwctype namespace, and to remove the phrase "The 
> category of information pertaining to" from the definitions of the dwc 
> classes.
> Cheers,
> Joel.
>> Cheers,
>> John
>> On Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 5:16 PM, joel sachs <jsachs at csee.umbc.edu> 
>> wrote:
>>       Hi Everyone,
>>       I’d like to direct everyone’s attention to issues 204 - 226 in
>>       the Darwin Core issue tracker [1]. These issues describe
>>       proposed changes to the Darwin Core standard, and were entered
>>       back in January in follow up to the Documenting Darwin Core
>>       workshop held at TDWG 2013. These proposals reflect what the
>>       organizers of that workshop believe to be the consensus that was
>>       reached during the workshop’s four sessions in Florence.
>>       The background for this is that, for some time, a number of
>>       TDWGers have been working towards an applicability statement to
>>       provide guidance on expressing Darwin Core data using RDF. In
>>       the course of this work, it became apparent that the semantics
>>       of Darwin Core itself needed a slight re-think, in order to be
>>       usable on the semantic web. The goal was to be
>>       backward-compatible, i.e. to introduce and re-define terms in a
>>       way that does not affect the meaning of existing Darwin Core
>>       spreadsheet data, but which provides the semantic grounding
>>       necessary for meaningful RDF. I think this goal has, for the
>>       most part, been realized. If you have examples to the contrary,
>>       please share them.
>>       Steve Baskauf provides a good overview of the proposals in Issue
>>       204. Of all of them, only Issue 205 (the introduction of a class
>>       to represent the taxonomically homogenous units that are
>>       described in Darwin Core occurrence data) was contentious,
>>       primarily because we disagreed on a good name for the class.
>>       (“We” refers to the ad-hoc group that worked on translating the
>>       notes from the workshop into concrete proposals - John
>>       Wieczorek, James Macklin, Markus Döring, Rich Pyle, Tim
>>       Robertson, Bob Morris, Hilmar Lapp, Steve Baskauf, Gregor
>>       Hagedorn, and myself.) I’ve mentioned my own concerns as a
>>       comment on that issue.
>>       There is one proposal that had the support of the group, but
>>       that is not yet entered into the Issue Tracker - the deprecation
>>       of dwc:basisOfRecord. The motivation for this proposal is that
>>       dwc:basisOfRecord is widely misunderstood and inconsistently
>>       used, coupled with the fact that GBIF currently uses
>>       basisOfRecord with the semantics of the (to be proposed)
>>       dwc:hasEvidence term. However, we have held back on proposing
>>       "hasEvidence", as there remain some unresolved issues regarding
>>       how it would be used. This will likely be left as future work,
>>       perhaps to be tackled at TDWG 2014.
>>       Many thanks to all who participated in the workshop, and to all
>>       who take the time to review its outcomes.
>>       Joel.
>>       1. https://code.google.com/p/darwincore/issues/list ["ID" ->
>>       "Sort Down" to see in order]
>>       _______________________________________________
>>       tdwg-content mailing list
>>       tdwg-content at lists.tdwg.org
>>       http://lists.tdwg.org/mailman/listinfo/tdwg-content

Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer
Vanderbilt University Dept. of Biological Sciences

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