|BOTANICAL ELECTRONIC NEWS|
|No. 164 April 30, firstname.lastname@example.org Victoria, B.C.|
Two years ago I met Janos Podani at the IAVS meetings in Texas and then again last summer in Budapest. I have been very impressed with his SYN-TAX 5 computing package and invited him to come to Anchorage. It is with great pleasure that I send the following workshop announcement for possible inclusion in BEN.
Exploration of Multivariate Data Structures in Biology: How to Use the SYN-TAX Package on the Mac or PC
by Dr. Janos Podani
This three-day course will combine morning lectures with afternoon hands-on application to teach the basic concepts and advanced features of the SYN-TAX 5.0 computing package. Participants are encouraged to bring their own data sets.
The workshop will be held at Alaska Pacific University and will be limited to 20 participants. Cost of workshop: $200. Checks should be made payable to "Alaska Pacific University" and sent to: SYN-TAX Workshop, Environmental Science, Alaska Pacific University, 4101 University Drive, Anchorage, Alaska 99508. Classes from 9:00-12:00 and 1:00-4:00 pm. Macintosh Power PC's will be available in the laboratory as well as a smaller number of DOS machines. Participants may also bring their own laptop computers. Further information concerning the SYN-TAX package may be found on the Web homepage (http://ramet.elte.hu/~podani/). [This is updated according to the Erratum in BEN #165]
Registration form and more information can be obtained from:
Stephen Talbot, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503; phone (907) 786-3381, fax (907) 786-3976, email: email@example.com (Stephen Talbot).
Abstract: The Indigenous Peoples of the northern American plains used Haploporus odorus to ornament sacred robes, human scalp necklaces and other cultural properties. The fungus was also a component of medicine bundles and used for protection against illness. Numerous collections, some dating to the early 1800s, from the Blackfoot, Blood, Cree and other northern plains tribes indicate this fungus was used widely as a component of sacred objects and as a symbol of spiritual power. The exceedingly fragrant anise-like scent of H. odorus sporophores appears to be the reason this fungus was selected and revered. Collection notes and historic photographs provide additional evidence for the importance of this fungus in traditional Native American culture. The significance of this fungus has remained obscure due to misidentification of the fungus as carved cottonwood roots, loss of information on traditional Native American culture over the last century and lack of previous ethnomycological investigation.
Robert A. Blanchette, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In September 1995, I posted an article on TAXACOM re cataloging versus curating natural history collections, which started a lively discussion. My original article is included below. It is also archived, along with the entire thread that followed, on http://www.keil.ukans.edu/archive/ taxacom.html. Recently, I was asked if my views have changed over the past year and a half. In short: no. In fact, the posted replies to my article convinced me that the problem is far more severe than I had realized.
Here's one common scenario: a funding agency awards a grant to build an electronic catalog for an important collection. By the end of the grant period the money is gone but only a tiny part of the catalog has been done. "The agency said our grant was to cover cataloging 40,000 specimens, but they only gave us enough money to pay for doing 1,000!"
How did this happen? The funding agency and the institution had very different ideas of what the term "catalog" meant. The agency expected a small amount to be spent on each specimen, but left the particulars up to the institution; the institution spent most of the money on a few very difficult specimens, and nothing on the rest. This is not a good outcome for anyone, except perhaps the one or two scientists who are most interested in those few specimens.
Apparently, this is a common scenario. Why? I think the reason for this is evident in some of the replies to my article back in September 1995. Several people (dare I say, taxonomists?) stated that curation and cataloging are (or should be) one and the same. Cataloging can be fairly cheap and painless (especially when done in the course of curating), but curating (especially of important, *old* collections), is always expensive.
Why are funding agencies so willing to pay for rapid cataloging of old collections, but not for "proper" curation? Because once the catalog is available on the Internet, specialists anywhere in the world will be able to locate specimens of "their" group in that collection. It is these taxonomic specialists who will (and should) be expected to do the extensive, detailed curation that is so expensive. If they are like me, they will be delighted to perform this valuable service in exchange for access to these important, historic collections.
Over the past few years, I have visited numerous museums, herbaria, and botanical gardens in the course of my research, to look at specimens. Invariably, it seems, I also talk to curators, collection managers, and computing system administrators about their on-line cataloging efforts.
One theme that emerges consistently is the difficulty of finding a good relationship between cataloging and curating. Cataloging is the creation of data records in a consistent format on a tangible medium. Curation is the analysis of specimens and all pertinent data, with various goals in mind: verification of known data, validation of that data, discovery of interesting links or patterns among the data, determination of correct identifications, and taxonomic and systematic treatments and revisions.
In some institutions, on-line catalogs are perceived as an endproduct, and as being (ideally) fixed. Also, there appears to be a great deal of difference of opinion about what various funding agencies want when they fund "cataloging" projects. Hence, there is sometimes intense pressure on research staff to do "complete" and "final" curatorial work on all specimens as part of the cataloging effort, regardless of the scientific value of the specimens or the area of expertise of the curator. It also requires highly trained researchers to spend huge amounts of time doing what could be done, for the most part, by a semi-skilled clerical worker, student trainee, or volunteer. Consequently, cataloging can become an excruciatingly difficult, expensive, and slow process.
Is it practical to make curatorial work a principal element of cataloging work, and not the other way around? Is it useful? Is it even desirable? I think not. In fact, I think it may be extremely detrimental to natural history research institutions and to our science.
Comments, anyone? Because I think that many people reading TAXACOM find themselves in exactly the sort of situation that I describe here, and may feel hesitant to post anything that may appear to be a criticism of their own institution, I would like to propose the following: If you wish to post a comment on this topic, but do not want your identity known, you may send it to me via e-mail privately (be sure to check your headers!), and I will post your article with a pseudonym. If you do not state that you wish me to post your e-mail, I will hold it in strictest confidence.
ALA is the official abbreviation of the University of Alaska Herbarium in Fairbanks (not Anchorage).
Submissions, subscriptions, etc.: email@example.com. BEN is archived on gopher freenet.victoria.bc.ca. The URL is: gopher://freenet.victoria.bc.ca:70/11/environment/Botany/ben. Also archived at http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/ben/