Saturday, July 05, 2008

Charting taxonomic knowledge

Nice paper by Robert Huber and Jens Klump has appeared in Computers & Geosciences entitled "Charting taxonomic knowledge through ontologies and ranking algorithms" (doi:10.1016/j.cageo.2008.02.016). The paper is not open access, but you can get some background from the post How TaxonRank works. Here's the abstract.

Since the inception of geology as a modern science, paleontologists have described a large number of fossil species. This makes fossilized organisms an important tool in the study of stratigraphy and past environments. Since taxonomic classifications of organisms, and thereby their names, change frequently, the correct application of this tool requires taxonomic expertise in finding correct synonyms for a given species name. Much of this taxonomic information has already been published in journals and books where it is compiled in carefully prepared synonymy lists. Because this information is scattered throughout the paleontological literature, it is difficult to find and sometimes not accessible. Also, taxonomic information in the literature is often difficult to interpret for non-taxonomists looking for taxonomic synonymies as part of their research.

The highly formalized structure makes Open Nomenclature synonymy lists ideally suited for computer aided identification of taxonomic synonyms. Because a synonymy list is a list of citations related to a taxon name, its bibliographic nature allows the application of bibliometric techniques to calculate the impact of synonymies and taxonomic concepts. TaxonRank is a ranking algorithm based on bibliometric analysis and Internet page ranking algorithms. TaxonRank uses published synonymy list data stored in TaxonConcept, a taxonomic information system. The basic ranking algorithm has been modified to include a measure of confidence on species identification based on the Open Nomenclature notation used in synonymy list, as well as other synonymy specific criteria.

The results of our experiments show that the output of the proposed ranking algorithm gives a good estimate of the impact a published taxonomic concept has on the taxonomic opinions in the geological community. Also, our results show that treating taxonomic synonymies as part of on an ontology is a way to record and manage taxonomic knowledge, and thus contribute to the preservation our scientific heritage.

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