How GUIDs will be used

Roderic Page at BIO.GLA.AC.UK
Mon Jan 30 13:25:22 CET 2006

A few quick thoughts.

On 30 Jan 2006, at 13:12, Arthur Chapman wrote:

> To some extent I think Sally is right, what she suggests wouldn't
> improve things with respect to duplicate specimens however- specimens
> of the same collection sent to more than one (and some times many)
> different institutions.
> One of the strengths of having those collections linked in some way
> through GUIDS is that it would aid considerably in quality control.
> Also cut down considerably the need to duplicate such things as
> georeferencing and validation. There are also many analyses where true
> replicates want to be deleted from the analysis, otherwise they may
> bias the results.  So even if we have institutions issuing their own
> GUID numbers, we will need a method of 'synonymisation' etc.
> The other issue is with names - if it is ONLY names we were loooking
> to add GUIDs to, then we have a nomenclature system already.  Where
> the strength lays is in that part of the taxonomy where no coding
> system exists - for the taxon concept.

But names are not unique (Agathis montana is a wasp and a tree), not
stable, there is no way to resolve them, and most of the metadata is
locked up in dead trees (journals), much of it under copyright.

> Contrary to some, I son't see some form of centralised issuing
> authority  restricting taxonomy and taxonomic freedom any more than a
> register of Births, Deaths and Marriages restricts your ability to
> name your child anyway you wish.

The issue of centralisation and "taxonomic freedom" is a red herring
(due to Rich and I talking past each other -- my fault). My concern
(and I know I'm doing a very poor job of explaining this) is that
administrative layers and attempting to harmonise things centrally may
ultimately prove to get in the way of getting things done. My sense is
that things happen from the ground up, not the other way around. Put
another way, there is nothing technically stopping any database setting
up GUIDs today -- so what is stopping us (and yes, I'm being a little



> My tuppence worth!
> Arthur
> Arthur Chapman
> Australian Biodiversity Information Services
> Toowoomba, Qld, Australia
>> From Sally Hinchcliffe <S.Hinchcliffe at KEW.ORG> on 30 Jan 2006:
>> Something I was thinking about over the weekend (I really must get a
>> life)
>> I was just reading the California Digital Library paper on ARK
>> identifiers (I think it got circulated many moons ago, yes I am just
>> getting caught up on my 'homework' now...) and the following
>> assertion stood out: (page 3)
>> '[W]hat we're looking for are persistent actionable identifiers,
>> where an actionable identifier is one that widely available tools
>> such as web browsers can use to convert a simple "click" into access
>> to the object ...'
>> This strikes me as only half true. For specimens, yes, most of the
>> use of GUIDs will be ultimately to allow a user to get their hands on
>> either the specimen itself or an electronic object sufficiently
>> informative about the specimen (e.g. a picture or a grid ref) that
>> they can do something scientific with it. In that case it mostly
>> doesn't matter if one specimen has multiple different ids (due to
>> aggregations, splittings, derivatives, sampling etc.) as long as all
>> of those ids lead back to the same thing.
>> But for the more abstract things like names, concepts and maybe even
>> descriptive terms, I can imagine the guids themselves becoming widely
>> used without there ever (or very rarely) being a reference made back
>> to the source of the id because there's not much more _there_ (other
>> than confirmation that no mistakes have been made in transmitting the
>> id). The real benefit of _these_ GUIDs is in being able to make
>> machine-computable statements about x being the same as or different
>> to or composed of y. In this case, multiple guids referring to the
>> same thing does become a problem because each duplication dilutes the
>> amount of information carried by that GUID as to whether x truly is
>> different from y, and reduces the chance that two of the same things
>> will carry the same id.
>> Does this make sense? It suggests that the delegation model for
>> specimens (e.g. just let each collection issue its own ids for
>> anything it likes) might have to differ from the one for names,
>> concepts or other largely abstract objects (where we might want to
>> explicitly divvy out the domains to particular nomenclators, concept
>> banks and so on)
>> Sally
>> *** Sally Hinchcliffe
>> *** Computer section, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
>> *** tel: +44 (0)20 8332 5708
>> *** S.Hinchcliffe at
Professor Roderic D. M. Page
Editor, Systematic Biology
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University of Glasgow
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