[tdwg-tag] Lobbing grenades: a challenge

Steve Baskauf steve.baskauf at vanderbilt.edu
Thu Sep 22 05:42:38 CEST 2011

As one of the co-conveners of the proposed RDF task group, I suppose it 
may be part of my job to "fall on the grenade".  Actually, I may not be 
the best person to respond to the issues that Rod brought up, being 
somewhat of a Semantic Web skeptic myself.  However, I think that the 
question that Rod posed actually contains an incorrect assumption, 
namely that anybody actually HAS converted much of any biodiversity data 
into RDF.  If by "biodiversity data" one means "taxon names", "taxa", or 
perhaps "taxon name uses", then yes, there are millions of triples in 
the wild.  But to my thinking, that's taxonomy data, not biodiversity 
data.  I'm not familiar with all of the organizations Rod listed, but 
with the exception of BCI which is focused on institutions, I think most 
of them deal primarily with taxonomic names and relationships, not 
occurrences, identifications, organisms, specimens, events, etc. which I 
would consider to be major components of biodiversity data.  I certainly 
don't think that there is any existing "common vocabulary" that has been 
used to describe those kinds of things, otherwise why would we have just 
spent the last two years discussing what they mean and how they are 
related to each other?

So I would say that one reason why we haven't "learned" much so far is 
because we don't have either the raw materials (aggregated metadata 
about occurrences and all the other stuff I mentioned) nor the 
vocabulary to describe them (yet).  Getting those things (or figuring 
out how to get them) is one of the points of forming the proposed task 
group.  If it turns out that after a year we've done nothing but spun 
our wheels with nothing to show for it, then maybe the venture is 
futile.  But I would like to make the attempt first before we reach that 


Roderic Page wrote:
> It's morning and the coffee hasn't quite kicked in yet, but reading 
> through recent TDWG TAG posts, and mindful of the upcoming meeting in 
> New Orleans  (which sadly I won't be attending) I'm seeing a mismatch 
> between the amount of effort being expended on discussions of 
> vocabularies, ontologies, etc. and the concrete results we can point to. 
> Hence, a challenge:
> "What new things have we learnt about biodiversity by converting 
> biodiversity data into RDF?"
> I'm not saying we can't learn new things, I'm simply asking what have 
> we learnt so far? 
> Since around 2006 we have had literally millions of triples in the 
> wild (uBio, ION, Index Fungorum, IPNI, Catalogue of Life, more 
> recently Biodiversity Collections Index, Atlas of Living Australia, 
> World Register of Marine Species, etc.), most of these using the same 
> vocabulary. What new inferences have we made?
> Let's make the challenge more concrete. Load all these data sources 
> into a triple store (subchallenge - is this actually possible?). 
> Perhaps add other RDF sources (DBpedia, Bio2RDF, CrossRef). What novel 
> inferences can we make?
> I may, of course, simply be in "grumpy old arse" mode, but we have 
> millions of triples in the wild and nothing to show for it. I hope I'm 
> not alone in wondering why...
> Regards
> Rod
> ---------------------------------------------------------
> Roderic Page
> Professor of Taxonomy
> Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
> College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
> Graham Kerr Building
> University of Glasgow
> Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
> Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk <mailto:r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>
> Tel: +44 141 330 4778
> Fax: +44 141 330 2792
> AIM: rodpage1962 at aim.com <mailto:rodpage1962 at aim.com>
> Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1112517192
> Twitter: http://twitter.com/rdmpage
> Blog: http://iphylo.blogspot.com
> Home page: http://taxonomy.zoology.gla.ac.uk/rod/rod.html

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

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