Thursday, October 27, 2011

Linking taxonomic names to literature: beyond digitised 5×3 index cards

Tomorrow is the Anchoring Biodiversity Information: From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond meeting. It should be an interesting gathering, albeit overshadowed by the sudden death of Frank Bisby.

I'm giving a talk entitled "Open Taxonomy", in which I argue that most taxonomic databases are little more than digitised collections of 5×3 index cards, where literature is treated as dumb citation strings rather than as resources with digital identifiers. To make the discussion concrete I've created a mapping between the Index to Organism Names (ION) database and a range of bibliographic sources, such as CrossRef (for DOIs), BioStor, JSTOR, etc.

This mapping is online at

So far I've managed to link some 200,000 animal names to a literature identifier, and a good fraction of these articles are freely available, either as images in BioStor and Gallica (for I've created a simple viewer) or as PDFs (which are displayed using Google Docs.

Some examples are:

The site is obviously a work in progress, and there's a lot to be done to the interface, but I hope it conveys the key point: a significant fraction of the primary taxonomic literature is online, and we should be linking to this. The days of digitised 5×3 index cards are past.