Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who's Organizing the Type Specimens

Circulating on Taxacom and elsewhere was a note and a petition that has me really worried:

On 26th March 2008 the University Board of Utrecht University, The Netherlands, informed the employees of the Utrecht Herbarium that as of 1 June 2008 the Herbarium is to be closed and, with immediate effect, access to the collections, from national as well as international workers, is to cease.

The above is straight off the Utrecht University website HERE where you can at least sign the online petition.

Where is the real source of this alarming decision? Do administrators see the doors to the herbarium as already closed so it's a simple decision to just bolt them shut?

Tim Robertson (GBIF) has been at the EOL informatics offices these past few days where some interesting ideas have been flying around. One of GBIF's original goals as near as I could remember was to expose the physical location and metadata for type specimens. But, I think a barrier to making this happen was the concentration on a distributed model to harvest and display ALL specimen and observational data in a consistent fashion. These are important sociological considerations but are tangential to the goal. What I would love to see is a simple web page for curators to input their type specimen data. Forget about the distributed data model. Type the data in and get an assigned LSID or some other identifier that can be used in perpetuity. Also type in the citation for the orginial description. Those three bits will serve as the most important scaffolding for all of biology. The metadata schema (if you still think in XML docs) is also laughably easy and the services to be built off this are embarrassingly useful. It is an immense source of pride for institutions (and curators!) to tell the world what type specimens are held behind their walls. Administrators cue in on that.

Tim Robertson and other developers in the Global informatics community are a passionate bunch and can see around corners, recognize the obstacles, and want the projects they represent to be huge successes. So, congrats Tim for your work on mapping and I hope there are other great things to come.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just Gimme the Current Name!

As a graduate student who collected a bunch of names to be stuffed into an Appendix, it was not a trivial task to ensure the names I used were the currently recognized nomenclature. One of the first things a reviewer of any publication containing an Appendix of names will do is check that the names are all correct. In spider circles, that means several dozen trips to Norm Platnick's World Spider Catalog. It would be so much easier for everyone involved if Norm had one big text box in which people could paste all the names and have every name be cross-checked with what is in the Catalog.

Coincidentally, it appears that many people who visit the Nearctic Spider Database use its search box to just get the full name string. I wonder how many searches on Google are the same! So, I made one. Sure, there are programmtic issues. But, I can catch those names that might potentially be ambiguous and tell you about them. I can also tell you if you misspelled a name or if a name you searched on isn't in The Nearctic Spider Database...remember that the database is regionally centric...and someone (me!) has to keep on top of potential species introductions, treatments, etc. because any checklist or database will never be complete.

So, give it a shot: