[tdwg-tag] Creating a TDWG standard for documenting Data Standards

Chuck Miller Chuck.Miller at mobot.org
Tue Mar 6 19:31:39 CET 2012

I think you may be opening Pandora's box with the question of TDWG Data Standards for DwC, particularly given the pervasiveness of some of the DwC and DCTerms terms for which a controlled vocabulary is needed/recommended.  But the box needs opening.

Establishing global consensus for controlled values for the more narrowly circumscribed data exchange formats of the past was difficult, notably the World Geographical Scheme still in use, which was initially a paper publication and created for botany before TDWG broadened its charter, and which required many months or years of work and collaborative agreement.  Some of the prior data standards merely declared standard works as the basis for controlled values, such as TL-2 and BPH (both data standards for botanical literature references that took years and years to create.)  But, that approach couldn't extend to zoology where there is no equivalent to TL-2 or BPH.  The practices of the past point out how things could be agreed as standard back then before the modern era of linked objects.  But, even then it took years of work.

Forgetting the past coming forward to now, some of the more pervasive terms in DwC will require wide involvement of many people to truly establish a consensus for controlled values.  It's work that is needed to be done.  But, it will need to be community-inclusive and probably parsed into groups of terms rather than attempt to tackle them all at once.  GBIF has started the ball rolling on some of it.

I still have plans to update the World Geographical Scheme data standard to make it truly world, including oceans.  But, like everyone, the demands of the work I'm paid to do continue to limit my time to devote to TDWG.


-----Original Message-----
From: tdwg-tag-bounces at lists.tdwg.org [mailto:tdwg-tag-bounces at lists.tdwg.org] On Behalf Of "Markus Döring (GBIF)"
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2012 10:32 AM
To: Steve Baskauf
Cc: "Éamonn Ó Tuama (GBIF)"; TDWG TAG
Subject: Re: [tdwg-tag] Creating a TDWG standard for documenting Data Standards

Thanks for bringing this to attention Steve. 
It is a very important piece in the puzzle of interoperability.

Just quickly Id like to point to some more of such data standards. 
Some have been created by TDWG some time ago and now are marked as "prior standards":
For example the "World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions" is still a widely adopted standard to my knowledge. But as you can see there are others which dont even have a download link and effectively are lost.

For dwc archives GBIF and others have also created many formal vocabularies, none of which are ratified by TDWG though. Ratification of controlled vocabularies is a bit harder in my mind, as many of the vocabularies are living to some degree and definitely not as static as data exchange formats or protocols. So versioning and frequent updates become critical. 

For many of the dwc terms that you have listed you will find a vocabulary in use here (in particular under gbif):


On 06.03.2012, at 17:11, Steve Baskauf wrote:

> Dag and Éamonn,
> In the context of the discussion which has been going on in the TDWG RDF mailing list, I have been thinking more about the issue of how to deal with DwC terms which state "Recommended best practice is to use a controlled vocabulary...".  That would be dcterms:type, dwc:language, dwc:basisOfRecord, dwc:sex, dwc:lifeStage, dwc:reproductiveCondition, dwc:behavior, dwc:establishmentMeans, dwc:occurrenceStatus, dwc:disposition, dwc:continent, dwc:waterBody, dwc:islandGroup, dwc:island, dwc:country, dwc:verbatimCoordinateSystem, dwc:georeferenceVerificationStatus, dwc:identificationVerificationStatus, dwc:taxonRank; dwc:nomenclaturalCode, dwc:taxonomicStatus, dwc:relationshipOfResource, and dwc:measurementType .
> It seems to me that it would be optimal for TDWG to have a standard for documenting controlled vocabularies of this sort which I believe to be the standard category "Data Standard (DS)" described at http://www.tdwg.org/standards/status-and-categories/ .  To my knowledge, there are no such current DS standards, nor are there any guidelines as to how they should be defined/documented.  But there SHOULD be such standards and the lack of them is impeding progress in our community.  I think this is reflected in your effort to form the VOMAG group.
> TDWG does have a model for standards documentation in the form of the TDWG Standards Documentation Specification (http://www.tdwg.org/standards/147/), which although unratified is being used to specify how standards should be documented for humans.  There are also several models for defining controlled values in RDF:
> http://dublincore.org/2010/10/11/dctype.rdf
> http://id.loc.gov/vocabulary/iso639-1.rdf
> http://code.google.com/p/darwincore/source/browse/trunk/rdf/dwctype.rd
> f
> There are probably more examples if I would look for them.  These models have some consistency in format which can guide us.
> Since I have been the Audubon Core review manager, I am now pretty familiar with the process of TDWG standards development and ratification, so I think that it would be possible to draft a standard based on the existing models that I have listed above, and to do so in a reasonable amount of time.  I would envision that this standard would define how the human-readable and machine readable documentation of the controlled vocabularies would be written, but it would not specify who should maintain the vocabularies, where and how they should be maintained, etc.  Those are technical details that can be worked out by groups such as your Vocabulary Management Task Group.  
> Normally, the creation of a standard would be to form a task group to take on the task of creating the standard.  However, as far as I am concerned, the TDWG RDF group already has been given the task of creating this kind of thing and when your task group is approved, I think this task would be within the charge of it as well (your charter goal " Develop technical guidelines for TDWG vocabularies of basic terms..." .  So what I am proposing is that at some point in the near future, we work on creating this documentation standard as a joint project of the two task groups.  I am willing to get it started by writing a draft.  It could then be discussed by the two task groups and revised as necessary.  I do not think that this documentation standard needs to be very complex, nor will it be controversial.  So I think that it could be ratified in a period much shorter than what has been required for Technical Standards like Darwin Core and Audubon Core.  Please note that I am NOT proposing that we actually create any Data Standards, but rather that we create guidelines for how they should be documented for humans and machines.
> Although I am not in a position to initiate this at the present moment, I wanted to give you some time to think about this before I make any kind of official proposal.  I believe that the current discussion on the TDWG RDF email list is highly relevant to this issue because we need to work out how to present in RDF controlled vocabulary values in both string and URI reference forms.  In the context of the ongoing discussion on the list, I intend to specifically bring up the issue of dwc:basisOfRecord and dcterms:type which both specify the use of a controlled vocabulary and which both are defined in RDF as well as having text values.  
> I don't want to seem "pushy" about this.  However, when I took on the role as co-convener of the RDF Task Group, it was with the understanding that we would make significant progress in one year.  It has now been five months out of that year and I feel the need to demonstrate that we can accomplish something tangible.  If we cannot actually accomplish something in the course of a year, then I need to move on to other projects that I've put aside in order to work on this.  So I am committed to trying to keep things moving.
> Please think about this and we can talk about it more later. 
> Steve
> On 2/10/2012 5:20 AM, Dag Endresen (GBIF) wrote:
>> Dear TAG,
>> After battling with the plans for a biodiversity knowledge 
>> organization
>> (KOS) framework for biodiversity information resources we have 
>> identified the requirement to develop guidelines and best practices 
>> for the management of vocabularies of terms. Basic terms organized in 
>> vocabularies provides an essential element to underpin the 
>> biodiversity information standards. As introduced at the TDWG 2011 
>> TAG meetings in New Orleans, we propose the formation of a new 
>> Vocabulary Management Task Group (VOMAG) [1] to be organized under 
>> the TDWG technical architecture group (TAG). Please find the draft 
>> charter available from the GBIF Community Site [2][3]. Here you will 
>> also find another draft document "Biodiversity Knowledge Organization 
>> System: Proposed Architecture; Version 0.1 February 2012" that 
>> provides an overview of the proposed KOS landscape and the context 
>> for the proposed work-plan of the Vocabulary Management Task Group Charter.
>> This is the first draft so far only discussed with Greg Whitbread as 
>> convener of the TDWG TAG and with Steve Baskauf and Joel Sachs as 
>> convener of the TDWG RDF/OWL task group. We invite feedback and 
>> comments to the proposed formation of the task group including 
>> suggestions with regard to the work-plan. Please join the Vocabulary 
>> Management group at the GBIF Community Site [1]. You can start or 
>> participate in discussions or share suggestions using the GBIF 
>> Community Site. Feel also free to make contact with us to volunteer 
>> as a core member for this proposed task group!
>> [1]
>> http://community.gbif.org/pg/groups/21382/vocabulary-management/
>> [2]
>> http://community.gbif.org/pg/file/read/21388/
>> [3]
>> http://community.gbif.org/pg/blog/read/21387/
>> [4]
>> http://community.gbif.org/pg/file/read/21582/
>> Best regards
>> Dag, Eamonn and David
> --
> Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer Vanderbilt University Dept. 
> of Biological Sciences
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