Topic 3: GUIDs for Taxon Names and Taxon Concepts

Roderic Page at BIO.GLA.AC.UK
Fri Nov 4 10:21:57 CET 2005

>> Assigning GUIDs solely to basionyms strikes me as crazy -- I'd suggest
>> most taxa aren't known by their basionyms. I'd advocate GUIDs for
>> every
>> name string (with the possible exception of orthographic variants,
>> spelling mistakes, etc.).
> By "Namestring", do you include author, our just taxonomic
> nomenclatural
> elements?  In either case, why even bother establishing a GUID for
> taxonomic
> names at all?  Why not just use the namestring itself?

Oh come on, you can't be serious ;-) Names aren't unique, GUIDs are.

> Moreover, I don't think anyone has suggest that GUIDs be assigned
> "solely"
> to basionyms.

Er, I quote from your earlier post.

 > I completely agree -- but again, what gets a "Name" GUID? (as opposed
to a
 > "usage" GUID or a "concept" GUID)  Only basionyms? (I hope!)  Or also
 > different combinations? (I hope not!) Or also spelling variants? (I
 > hope not!!)

> The point is, there shouldn't be six different "units" to
> which GUIDs are assigned to represent "taxon names" [basionyms,
> combinations, namestrings, namestrings with authors, concept
> definitions,
> name usage instances, etc.]
>> Lastly, "imposing standards" is the wrong way to think about this.
>> Standards win support if they work, and are adopted. I'd suggest this
>> stuff will happen if people make compelling applications that others
>> make use of, not because TDWG decides what should be done.
> O.K., my choice of the word "imposing" was bad.  I should have said
> something like "implementing".  The one lesson that the web has taught
> us
> more vividly than decentralization is the power of standards for
> information
> exchange. We could have all invented our own version of DarwinCore for
> exposing specimen records to the internet, and allowed natural
> selection to
> take its course such that only the most useful few versions survived
> -- but
> I don't think that would have been the most effective path to where we
> are
> now (and where we could be soon, once DarwinCore V2 is ratified and
> mapped
> against ABCD elements).

Yes, standards are nice, but in practise there is usually more than one
(like Darwin Core and ABCD), and the winner isn't always decided by
committee. But this is a side issue...

>> So, my final question is, what is wrong with having each taxonomic
>> database serve their own GUIDs for their own data (using an agreed
>> format, such as RDF), and where possible GUIDs from different sources
>> are mapped (e.g., a name string in IPNI to one in uBio). Users employ
>> whatever GUID they find useful -- at least we then know what digital
>> object they are referring to.
> To me, GUIDs are only valuable and serve the information exchange
> needs of
> our community if they are, to some extent at least, reusable.  I do not
> understand the value of assigning GUIDs to the records in my taxonomic
> database, if I am the only one who will ever use them. I understand the
> practical value of establishing "local" GUIDs to my taxon name records
> independently from other databases, if the long-term goal is to
> eventually
> map my GUIDs to the corresponding "equivalent" GUIDs of other
> databases.

For me the point is that if you have a GUID, I can map to you and add
value to my projects. Without a GUID, it's a pain.

> Donald started out this discussion by suggesting that "Taxon Name"
> objects
> might be thought of as fundamentally different from "Taxon Concept"
> objects
> (in an analagous way to how publication objects are fundamentally
> different
> from specimen objects).  If you agree with this, then it would be nice
> if we
> could find a standard line to draw between these two objects, so that
> when
> we later try to cross-walk our respective datasets, we're mapping
> apples to
> apples, and oranges to oranges (rather than apples to bananas and then
> back
> to oranges -- which aptly represents what I'm having to resort to in
> mapping
> my taxonomic data records to ITIS records).

If it hurts don't do it! Put another way, why not make the mapping
purely nomenclatural -- this name string also occurs in ITIS, and don't
make any claims that whatever ITIS means by that name is what you mean.
Alternatively, let users decide what mappings they want to make between
you and ITIS. Expertise is rare and widely distributed. I think you're
making things harder for yourself than the need to be.

>> If we think of the scientific literature, many paper have at least two
>> GUIDs (DOI and PubMed), both of which are useful, and which serve
>> different purposes.
> What is the value of expanding that to potentially hundreds, or
> thousands of
> GUIDs for each paper -- one GUID from each database that has a table of
> literature records?  Wouldn't our information exchange be much more
> efficient if we all adopted (or at least mapped to) either the DOI or
> the
> PubMed GUID (or both)? If so, why doesn't this same logic apply to
> taxon
> names?

I guess my point was that this is a case where more than one GUID
exists for the "same" thing (a publication), and we manage to cope.
Yes, "one GUID to rule them all" might be nice, but I just don't buy
that it's going to happen any time soon. Just look at the discussion
this topic has generated...

Again, I think we make a mistake if we equate GUIDs with solving all
our problems. Rather, I suggest they give us an infrastructure on which
to build tools for mapping names/concepts/whatever.



Professor Roderic D. M. Page
Editor, Systematic Biology
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QP
United Kingdom

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