Thursday, May 07, 2009

Nomenclators + digitised literature = fail

Continuing with RSS feeds, I've now added wrappers around IPNI that will return for each plant family a list of names added to the IPNI database in the last 30 days. You can see the list at here.

One thing which is a constant source of frustration for me is the disconnect between nomenclators (lists of published names for species) and scientific publishing. The unit of digitisation for a publisher is the scientific article, but nomenclators often cite not the article in which a name was published, but the page on which the name appears.

For example, consider IPNI record 77096979-1 (or, if you prefer LSIDs It is for the begonia Begonia ozotothrix, and the citation is:

Edinburgh J. Bot. 66(1): 105 (-110; figs. 1, 4-5, map). 2009 [Mar 2009]

Very detailed, and great if I have access to a physical library that has the Edinburgh Journal of Botany -- I just find volume 66 on the shelf and turn to page 105. But, I want this on my computer now ("library" - who they?). How do I find this reference on the web? The answer, is not easily. Tools such as OpenURL, which could be used, assume that I know at least the starting page of the article, but IPNI doesn't tell me that. Nor do I have an article title, which might help, but a Google search on "Begonia ozotothrix" finds the article:

D C Thomas, W H Ardi and M Hughes
Edinburgh Journal of Botany 66, 103 (2009)

Note the DOI! This article exists on the web, so why can't IPNI give me the DOI? They've gone to a lot of trouble to describe the citation in great detail, but adding the DOI brings the record into the 21st century and the web (the DOI is even printed on the article!).

I think nomenclators need to make a concerted effort to integrate with the digital scientific literature, otherwise they will remain digital backwaters that make the implicit assumption that their users have access to libraries such as that at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (pictured).

For recently published articles there's absolutely no reason not to store the DOI. Finding these retrospectively is a pain, but I need these for my RSS feed (and other projects) so one thing I added a while ago to bioGUID's OpenURL resolver is the ability to search for an article given an arbitrary page. For example, J. Bot.&volume=66&pages=105

will search various sources (such as CrossRef) to find an article that includes page 105. Now, I just have to have a parser that can make sense of IPNI bibliographic citations...