Topic 3: GUIDs for Taxon Names and Taxon Concepts

Roderic Page at BIO.GLA.AC.UK
Fri Nov 4 08:03:34 CET 2005

I'm a bit concerned that some may have conflated "Global" with
"Centralised". GUIDs do not need to be centrally issued, indeed I'd
argue that this is counter productive. To my mind the lesson from the
web is decentralisation is the only way to cope with the issue of
scale. Attempts at grandiose centralisation tend to fail. Hence, we
should plan for GUIDs to be issued by more than one data source. After
all, we are talking about GUIDs for digital objects, not ideas.

The idea that only the resolution system needs to be able to
distinguish between specimens, taxon names, etc., seems unfortunate.
With LSIDs the GUID has a namespace element, which can be readily used
to distinguish between types of record (e.g., a PubMed record and a DNA
sequence record from NCBI have different namespaces).

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.). I don't really think this is about taxonomy,
it's about information retrieval and stability of identifiers for
digital objects.

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.

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.

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.

This may seem like a recipe for anarchy, but we can do this now (and,
in effect we already have, my Taxonomic Search Engine serves LSIDs for
the major taxonomic name databases). If we think the solution rests
with a central authority (and ZooBank) then I think we are fooling



Professor Roderic D. M. Page
Editor, Systematic Biology
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