Monday, December 19, 2011

Towards an interactive taxonomic article: displaying an article from ZooKeys

One of the things I keep revisiting is the way we display scientific articles. Apart from Nature's excellent iPhone and iPad apps, most efforts to re-imagine how we display articles are little more than glorified PDF viewers (e.g., the PLoS iPad app).

Part of the challenge is that if we make the article more interactive we immediately confront the problem of how to link to other content. For example, we may have a lovingly crafted ePub view (e.g., Nature's apps), but what happens when the user clicks on a citation to another paper? If the paper is published by the same journal, then potentially it could be viewed using the same viewer, but if not then we are at the mercy of the other publisher. They will have their own ideas of how to display articles, so the simplest fallback is to display the cited article in a web browser view. The problem with this is that it breaks the user experience - the other publisher is unlikely to follow the same conventions for displaying an article and its links. If we are lucky the cited article might be published in an Open Access journal that provides, say, XML based on the NLM DTD standard. Knowing whether an article is Open Access or not is not straightforward, and different journals have their own unique interpretation of the NLM standard.

Then there is the issue of other kinds of content, such as taxonomic names, specimens, DNA sequences, geographic localities, etc. We lack decent services for many of these objects, as a result efforts like PLoS Biodiversity Hub end up being underwhelming collections of reformatted journal articles, rather then innovative integrations of biodiversity knowledge.

With these issues in mind I've started playing with ZooKeys XML, initially looking at ways to display the article beyond the conventional format. Ultimately I'd like to embed the article in a broader web of citations and data. ZooKeys articles are available in PDF, HTML, and XML. The HTML has links to taxon pages, maps, etc., which is nice, but I personally find this a little jarring because it interrupts the reading experience. The ZooKeys web site also surrounds the article with all paraphernalia of a publisher's web site:

As a first experiment, I've taken the XML for article At the lower size limit for tetrapods, two new species of the miniaturized frog genus Paedophryne (Anura, Microhylidae) and used a XSLT style sheet to reformat the article. I've borrowed some ideas from Nature's apps, such as the font for the title, displaying the abstract in bold, and showing all the figures in the article as thumbnails near the top. I've also added some basic interactivity, which you can see in the video below. Instead of figures being in one place in the article, wherever a figure is mentioned in the article (e.g., "Fig. 1") if you click on the reference to the figure it appears. If the article display a point locality using latitude and longitude, instead of launching a separate browser window with a Google map, click on the locality and the map appears. The idea is that the flow of reading isn't interrupted, figures, maps, and citations all appear in the text.

This demo (which you can see live at is limited, but most of its functionality comes from simply reformatting XML using XSLT. There's a little bit of jQuery for animation, and I ended up having to write a PHP script to convert verbatim latitude and longitude coordinates to the decimal coordinates expected by Google Maps, but it's all very light weight. It wouldn't take much to add some JSON queries to make the taxon names clickable (e.g., showing a summary of a taxon from EOL). Because ZooKeys uses the NLM DTD for its XML, some of this code could also be applied to other journals, such as PLoS, so we could start to grow a library of linked, interactive taxonomic articles.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Exporting data from Australian Faunal Directory on CouchDB

Quick note to self about exporting data from my Australian Faunal Directory on CouchDB project. To export data from a CouchDB view you can use a list function (see Formatting with Show and List). Following the example on the Kanapes IDE blog, I created the following list function:

"_id": "_design/publication",
"_rev": "14-467dee8248e97d874f1141411f536848",
"language": "javascript",
"lists": {
"tsv": "function(head,req) {
var row;
'headers': {
'Content-Type': 'text/tsv'
while(row = getRow()) {
send(row.value + '\\t' + row.key + '\\n');
"views": {

I can use this function with the view below, which lists Australian Faunal Directory publications by UUID ("value"), indexed by DOI ("key").


I can get the tab-delimited dump from http://localhost:5984/afd/_design/publication/_list/tsv/doi. Note that instead of, say, /afd/_design/publication/_view/doi to get the view, we use /afd/_design/publication/_list/tsv/doi to get the tab-delimited dump.

I've created files listing DOIs and BioStor ids for publications in the Australian Faunal Directory. I'll play with lists a bit more, specially as I would like to extract the mapping from the Australian Faunal Directory on CouchDB project and add it to the iTaxon project.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

DNA Barcoding, the Darwin Core Triplet, and failing to learn from past mistakes

Given various discussions about identifiers, dark taxa, and DNA barcoding that have been swirling around the last few weeks, there's one notion that is starting to bug me more and more. It's the "Darwin Core triplet", which creates identifiers for voucher specimens in the form <institution-code>:<OPTIONAL collection-code>:<specimen-id>. For example,


is the identifier for specimen 246033 in the Herpetology collection of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (see

On the face of it this seems a perfectly reasonable idea, and goes some way towards addressing the problem of linking GenBank sequences to vouchers (see, for example,, preprint at PubMed Central). But I'd argue that this is a hack, and one which potentially will create the same sort of mess that citation linking was in before the widespread use of DOIs. In other words, it's a fudge to postpone adopting what we really need, namely persistent resolvable identifiers for specimens.

In many ways the Darwin Core triplet is analogous to an article citation of the form <journal>, <volume>:<starting page>. In order to go from this "triplet" to the digital version of the article we've ended up with OpenURL resolvers, which are basically web services that take this triple and (hopefully) return a link. In practice building OpenURL resolvers gets tricky, not least because you have to deal with ambiguities in the <journal> field. Journal names are often abbreviated, and there are various ways those abbreviations can be constructed. This leads to lists of standard abbreviations of journals and/or tools to map these to standard identifiers for journals, such as ISSNs.

This should sound familiar to anybody dealing with specimens. Databases such as the Registry of Biological Repositories and the Biodiversity Collectuons Index have been created to provide standardised lists of collection abbreviations (such as MVZ = Museum of Vertebrate Zoology). Indeed, one could easily argue that the what we need is an OpenURL for specimens (and I've done exactly that).

As much as there are advantages to OpenURL (nicely articulated in Eric Hellman's post When shall we link?), ultimately this will end in tears. Linking mechanisms that depend on metadata (such as museum acronyms and specimen codes, or journal names) are prone to break as the metadata changes. In the case of journals, publishers can rename entire back catalogues and change the corresponding metadata (see Orwellian metadata: making journals disappear), journals can be renamed, merged, or moved to new publishers. In the same way, museums can be rebranded, specimens moved to new institutions, etc. By using a metadata-based identifier we are storing up a world of hurt for someone in the future. Why don't we look at the publishing industry and learn from them? By having unique, resolvable, widely adopted identifiers (in this case DOIs) scientific publishers have created an infrastructure we now take for granted. I can read a paper online, and follow the citations by clicking on the DOIs. It's seamless and by and large it works.

On could argue that a big advantage of the Darwin Core triplet is that it can identify a specimen even if it doesn't have a web presence (which is another way of saying that maybe it doesn't have a web presence now, but it might in the future). But for me this is the crux of the matter. Why don't these specimens have a web presence? Why is it the case that biodiversity informatics has failed to tackle this? It seems crazy that in the context of digital data (DNA sequences) and digital databases (GenBank) we are constructing unresolvable text strings as identifiers.

But, of course, much of the specimen data we care about is online, in the form of aggregated records hosted by GBIF. It would be technically trivial for GBIF to assign a decent identifier to these (for example, a DOI) and we could complete the link between sequence and specimen. There are ways this could be done such that these identifiers could be passed on to the home institutions if and when they have the infrastructure to do it (see GBIF and Handles: admitting that "distributed" begets "centralized").

But for now, we seem determined to postpone having resolvable identifiers for specimens. The Darwin Core triplet may seem a pragmatic solution to the lack of specimen identifiers, but it seems to me it's simply postponing the day we actually get serious about this problem.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Google doesn't like BioStor anymore

According to Google Analytics BioStor has experienced a big drop in traffic since the start of October:


At one point I'm getting something like 4500 visits a week, now it's just over a thousand a week. I'm guessing this is due to Google's 'Panda' update. I suspect part of the problem is that in terms of text content BioStor is actually pretty thin. For each article there is some metadata and a few links, so it probably looks a little like a link farm. The bulk of the content is in the page images, which of course, Google can't read.

I'd be interested to know of any other sites in the field that have been affected in the same way (or, indeed, sites which have seen no change in their traffic since October).

Monday, December 05, 2011

These are my species - finding the taxonomic names I published using Mendeley

The latest addition to my mapping of taxonomic names to the literature ( is the ability for authors with Mendeley accounts to find the names they've published. This is an extension of the "I wrote that" tool I developed earlier.

Let's say I want to show the names that a given author has published. I could search by that author's name, but that raises all sorts of issues (see my earlier posts ReaderMeter: what's in a name? and Equivalent author names), especially for this database where I have incomplete citations and in many cases lack author names beyond surname.

Another way to tackle the problem is if I have a list of publications for an author, then all I need to do is match that list to the publications in my taxonomic database. If both lists have identifiers for the publications, such as DOIs, then the task is trivial. But, where do I get these lists?

An obvious source is Mendeley, where people are building lists of their own publications (as well as other publications that they are interested in). For example, my publications are listed at

But I don't want to have to get these lists myself, I'd much rather that a Mendeley user could go to my taxonomic database, say "I have this Mendeley account, show me the names I've published". One reason I'd like to do this is that if I want people to engage with this project it would be nice to be able to offer an immediate reward, in this case, a place where you can show your contribution to the task of cataloguing life on this planet.

Finding my taxonomic names

If you have a Mendeley account here's what you do:

Go to At the top right you will see a "Sign in using Mendeley" link.

Click this and you will be taken to Mendeley where you will be asked if you'd like to allow to connect to your account (if you're already logged in to Mendeley then you'll see an Accept button, otherwise Mendeley will ask you to log in).

If you click on Accept then you will be taken back to my site and you should now see your profile name and picture on the top right:


If you click on the Profile link then my site will talk to Mendeley and get a list of your papers and look for them in my database. If it find a paper it outputs the taxonomic names published in that paper. For example, here is my profile:


Listed are the species of bird lice in the genus Dennyus described in a paper on which I was a coauthor (

This list is incomplete as earlier papers of mine on crab and isopod taxonomy aren't listed because these lack identifiers. This is something I need to work on, but for now this seems like a simple way to enable someone to go to the mapping between taxonomic names and literature and find the names they've authored.

If you have a Mendeley account, and your list of publications in Mendeley includes papers describing new animal species, go to and try it out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mapping names to literature: closing in on 250,000 names

Following on from my earlier post Linking taxonomic names to literature: beyond digitised 5×3 index cards I've been slowly updating my latest toy:

This site displays a database mapping over 200,000 animal names to the primary literature, using a mix of identifiers (DOIs, Handles, PubMed, URLs) as well as links to freely available PDFs where they are available. Lots still to do as about a third of the 1.5 million names in the database have citations that my code hasn't been able to parse. There are also lots of gaps that need to be filled in, for example missing DOIs or PubMed identifiers, and a lot of the earlier names are linked by "microcitations" to names, and I'll need to handle those (using code from my earlier project Nomenclator Zoologicus meets Biodiversity Heritage Library: linking names directly to literature).

The mapping itself is stored in a database that I'm constantly editing, so this is far from production quality, but I've found it eye-opening just how much literature is available. There is a lot of scope for generating customised lists of papers, for example, primary taxonomic sources for taxa currently on the IUCN Red List, or those taxa which have sequences in GenBank (building on the mapping of NCBI taxa onto Wikipedia). Given that a lot of the relevant literature is in BHL, or available as PDFs, we could do some data mining, such as extracting geographical coordinates, taxonomic names, and citations. And if linked data is your thing, the 110,000 DOIs and nearly 9,000 CiNiii URLs all serve RDF (albeit not without a few problems).

I've set a "goal" of having 250,000 names mapped to the primary literature, at which point the database interface will get some much-needed attention, but for now have a look for your favourite animal and see if it's original description has been digitised.

Towards the bibliography of life

David King et al.'s paper "Towards the bibliography of life" has just appeared in a special issue of ZooKeys. I've written a number of posts on this topic, so I've a few comments.

King et al. survey some of the issues, but don't really tackle the big issue of how we're going to build this. If we define the "bibliography of life" somewhat narrowly as the list of all papers that have published a scientific name (or a new combination, such as moving a species from one genus to another), then this is a large, but measurable undertaking. According to ION's metrics page, these are the numbers involved (for animals and protozoa):

Total New Names1,510,402
Total New Genera / Subgenera215,242
Total New Species / Subspecies1,192,366
Total Other New Names102,794
Total New Combinations241,296
Total New Synonyms260,544

Even in the worse case scenario of one name per publication (clearly not the case) this is big, but not insurmountable, task.

Publications not taxa
Part of the challenge is figuring out the best way to tackle the problem. In the past, most efforts at building taxonomic bibliographies have focussed on specific taxa, which is natural — the bibliographies are being built by taxonomists and they specialise in particular groups. But I'd argue that this is not the most efficient way to tackle the problem. Because the taxonomic literature is so widely dispersed, after the obvious "low hanging fruit" have been collected, considerable effort must be spent tracking down the harder to find citations. There are few economies of scale in this approach. In contrast, if we focus on publications at, say, the level of journal, then we can build a bibliography much more quickly. Once we've found the source, say, for one article, often we could use that information to harvest many articles from the same source (e.g., write scripts to harvest from a digital repository such as a DSpace server, or a digital library such as Gallica). But if we are focussed on a particular taxon, we will ignore the other articles in that journal ("what do I care about fish, I like turtles").

Put another way, if we imagine a taxa × publication matrix, then we can either go after rows (i.e., a bibliography for a specific taxonomic group), or columns (a list of articles in a specific journal). The article-based approach will be faster, albeit at the cost of finding articles that aren't necessarily relevant to taxonomy. This is why I'm spending what feels like far too much time harvesting article lists and uploading these to Mendeley. It is also one reason BHL has been so successful. They've simply gone after scanning the literature wholesale, rather than focussing on particular taxonomic groups.

TaxapublicationmatrixWikispecies logo enCrowd sourcing and Wikispecies
Crowd sourcing often strikes me as a euphemism for "we can't be bothered doing the tedious stuff, lets get the public to do it for us (plus it will look like we're engaged with the public)." I'm not denying can work, but I suspect it's not a magic bullet. Perhaps the best crowd sourcing is not to try and bring the crowd to a project, but go where the crowd has already gathered. In this case, an obvious crowd is the Wikispecies community. Working with the ION database for my Sherborn presentation, it's clear that the quality of bibliographic data in ION is variable, and rather poor for older references. In contrast, the reference lists on Wikispecies can be very good (e.g., the bibliography for George Boulenger). There are some issues with Wikispecies, notably the lack of a decent bibliographic template (unlike Wikipedia) so parsing references can be *cough* interesting, but there is scope here to use it to improve other databases. Citation matching can be a challenge, but in this case we have citations indexed by taxonomic name (in both ION and Wikispecies), which greatly reduces the scope of possible matches.

I think building the "bibliography of life" needs a combination of aggressive data gathering, and avoiding building additional tools unless absolutely needed. There are great tools and communities that can already be leveraged (e.g., Mendeley, Wikispecies), let's make use of them.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

BHL needs to engage with publishers (and EOL needs to link to primary literature)

Browsing EOL I stumbled upon the recently described fish Protoanguilla palau, shown below in an image by rairaiken2011:
Palauan Primitive Cave Eel

Two things struck me, the first is that the EOL page for this fish gives absolutely no clue as to where you would to find out more about this fish (apart from an unclickable link to the Wikipedia page - seriously, a link that isn't clickable?), despite the fact this fish has been recently described in an Open Access publication ("A 'living fossil eel (Anguilliformes: Protanguillidae, fam. nov.) from an undersea cave in Palau",

Now that I've got my customary grumble about EOL out of the way, let's look at the article itself. On the first page of the PDF it states:
This article cites 29 articles, 7 of which can be accessed free

So 22 of the articles or books cited in this paper are, apparently, not freely available. However, looking at the list of literature cited it becomes obvious that rather more of these citations are available online than we might think. For example, there are articles that are in the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), e.g.

Then there are articles that are available in other digitising projects

  • Hay O. P. 1903 On a collection of Upper Cretaceous fishes from Mount Lebanon, Syria, with descriptions of four new genera and nineteen new species. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. N. Y. 19, 395–452.
  • Nelson G. J. 1966 Gill arches of fishes of the order Anguilliformes. Pac. Sci. 20, 391–408.

Furthermore, there are articles that aren't necessarily free, but which have been digitised and have DOIs that have been missed by the publisher, such as the Regan paper above, and

So, the Proceedings of the Royal Society has underestimated just how many citations the reader can view online. The problem, of course, is how does a publisher discover these additional citations? Some have been missed because of sloppy bibliographic data. The missing DOIs are probably because the Regan citation lacks a volume number, and the Trewavas paper uses a different volume number to that used by Wiley (who digitised Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond.). But the content in BHL and other digital archives will be missed because finding these is not part of a publisher's normal workflow. Typically citations are matched by using services ultimately provided by CrossRef, and the bulk of BHL content is not in CrossRef.

So it seems there's an opportunity here for someone to provide a service for publishers that adds value to their content in at least three ways:
  1. Add missing DOIs due to problematic citations for older literature
  2. Add links to BHL content
  3. Add links to content in additional digitisation projects, such as journal archives in DSpace respositories

For readers this would enhance their experience (more of the literature becomes accessible to them), and for BHL and the repositories it will drive more readers to those repositories (how many people reading the paper on Protoanguilla palau have even heard of BHL?). I've said most of this before, but I really think there's an opportunity here to provide services to the publishing industry, and we don't seem to be grasping it yet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wikipedia History Flow tool now in GitHub

Inspired by a comment on my post Visualising edit history of a Wikipedia page, the code I use to make history flow diagrams like the one below is now in GitHub at


There is also a live version at If you enter the name of a Wikipedia page the tool will display the edit history with columns representing page versions and individual contributors (people and bots) distinguished by different colours.

This tool will fall over for pages with a lengthy history of edits, and requires a web browser that can support SVG, but it's a fun visualisation, and may inspire someone to do this properly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Apache mod_rewrite and question marks "?"

Quick note to self in case I (inevitably) forget later. If you are using Apache mod_rewrite to make nice, clean URLs, and are also supporting JSONP, you may run into the situation where you have code that wants to append "?callback=xxx" to your URL (e.g., a cross-domain AJAX call in jQuery). Imagine you have a nice clean URL /user/123, which actually corresponds to user.php?id=123. If you append ?callback=xxx to the URL then chances are the code will break, because mod_rewrite will rewrite the URL to something like user.php?id=123?callback=xxx. What you actually want to send to your web server is user.php?id=123&callback=xxx (note the & before "callback"). After much grief trying to figure out how to coerce Apache mod_rewrite into handling this situation I found the answer, of course, on Stack Overflow. If you use the [QSA] flag, Apache will append the additional callback parameter onto the end of the rewritten URL, so JSONP will now work. Once again, Stack Overflow turned a show-stopper into a learning experience.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Adding article-level metadata to BHL

Recently I've been thinking about the best ways to make article-level metadata from BioStor more widely available. For example, for someone visiting the BHL site there is no easy way to find articles, which are the basic unit for much of the scientific literature. How hard would it be to add articles to BHL? In the past I've wanted an all-singing all dancing article-level interface to BHL content (sort of BioStor on steroids), but that's a way off, and ideally would have a broader scope than BHL. So instead I've been thinking of ways to add articles to BHL without requiring a lot of re-engineering of BHL itself.

Looking at other digital archive projects like Gallica and Google Books it strikes me that if the BHL interface to a scanned item had a "Contents" drop down menu then users would be able to go to individual articles very easily. Below is a screen shot of how Gallica does this (see


There's also a screen shot of something similar in Google Books (see


The idea would be that if BioStor had found articles within a scanned item, they would be listed in the contents menu (title, author, starting page), and if the user clicked on the article title then the BHL viewer would jump to that page. If there were no known articles, but the scanned item had a table of contents flagged (e.g., then the menu could function as a button that takes you to that page. If there are no articles or contents, then the menu could be grayed out, or simply not displayed. This way the interface would work for books, monographs, and journal volumes.

Now, admittedly this is not the most elegant interface, and it treats articles as fragments of books rather than individual units, but it would be a start. It would also require minimal effort both on the part of BHL (who need to add the contents button), and myself (it would be easy to create a dump of the article titles indexed by scanned item).

Nature iPhone app clone in GitHub

One thing I'm increasingly conscious of is that I've a lot of demos and toy projects hanging around and the code for most of these isn't readily available. So, I plan to clean these up and put them in GitHub so others can explore the code, and reuse it if they see fit.

First up is the code to create a HTML+Javascript clone of Nature's iPhone app, as described in an earlier post.


There's a live version of the clone here here. and the code is now available from GitHub at

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sherborn presentation on Open Taxonomy

Here is my presentation from today's Anchoring Biodiversity Information: From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond meeting.

All the presentations will be posted online, along with podcasts of the audio. Meantime, presentations by Dave Remsen and Chris Freeland are already online.

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.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Final thoughts on TDWG RDF challenge

Quick final comment on the TDWG Challenge - what is RDF good for?. As I noted in the previous post, Olivier Rovellotti (@orovellotti) and Javier de la Torre (@jatorre) have produced some nice visualisations of the frog data set:
Nice as these are, I can't help feeling that they actually help make my point about the current state of RDF in biodiversity informatics. The only responses to my challenge have been to use geography, where the shared coordinate system (latitude and longitude) facilitates integration. Having geographic coordinates means we don't need to have shared identifiers to do something useful, and I think it's no accident that GBIF is one of the most important resources we have. Geography is also the easiest way to integrate across other fields (e.g., climate).

But what of the other dimensions? What I'm really after are links across datasets that enable us to make new inferences, or address interesting questions. The challenge is still there...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reflections on the TDWG RDF "Challenge"

This is a follow up to my previous post TDWG Challenge - what is RDF good for? where I'm being, frankly, a pain in the arse, and asking why we bother with RDF? In many ways I'm not particularly anti-RDF, but it bothers me that there's a big disconnect between the reasons we are going down this route and how we are actually using RDF. In other words, if you like RDF and buy the promise of large-scale data integration while still being decentralised ("the web as database"), then we're doing it wrong.

As an aside, my own perspective is one of data integration. I want to link all this stuff together so I can follow a path through multiple datasets and extract the information I want. In other words, "linked data" (little "l", little "d"). I'm interested in fairly light weight integration, typically through shared identifiers. There is also integration via ontologies, which strikes me as a different, if related, problem, that in many ways is closer to the original vision of the Semantic Web as a giant inference engine. I think the concerns (and experience) of these two communities are somewhat different. I don't particularly care about ontologies, I want key-value pairs and reusable identifiers so I can link stuff together. If, for example, you're working on something like Phenoscape, then I think you have a rather more circumscribed set of data, with potentially complicated interrelationships that you want to make inferences on, in which case ontologies are your friend.

So, I posted a "challenge". It wasn't a challenge so much as a set of RDF to play with. What I'm interested in is seeing how easily we can string this data together to learn stuff. For example, using the RDF I posted earlier here is a table listing the name, conservation status, publication DOI and date, and (where available) image from Wikipedia for frogs with sequences in GenBank.

SpeciesStatusDOIYear describedImage
Atelopus nanayCR[0229:TNSOAA]2.0.CO;22002
Eleutherodactylus mariposaCR
Phrynopus kauneorumCR
Eleutherodactylus eunasterCR
Eleutherodactylus amadeusCR
Eleutherodactylus lamprotesCR
Churamiti maridadiCR
Eleutherodactylus thorectesCR
Eleutherodactylus apostatesCR
Leptodactylus silvanimbusCR
Eleutherodactylus sciagraphusCR
Bufo chavinCR[0216:NSOBAB]2.0.CO;22001
Eleutherodactylus fowleriCR
Ptychohyla hypomykterCR
Hyla suweonensisDD
Proceratophrys concavitympanumDD
Phrynopus bufoidesDD
Boophis periegetesDD
Phyllomedusa duellmaniDD
Boophis liamiDD
Hyalinobatrachium ignioculusDD[0091:ANSOHA]2.0.CO;22003
Proceratophrys cururuDD
Amolops bellulusDD[0536:ABANSO]2.0.CO;22000
Centrolene bacatumDD
Litoria kumaeDD
Phrynopus pesantesiDD
Gastrotheca galeataDD
Paratelmatobius cardosoiDD
Rhacophorus catamitusDD[0046:NAPKPF]2.0.CO;22002
Huia melasmaDD
Telmatobius vilamensisDD[0253:ANSOTA]2.0.CO;22003
Callulina kisiwamsituEN
Arthroleptis nikeaeEN
Eleutherodactylus amplinymphaEN
Eleutherodactylus glaphycompusEN
Bufo tacanensisEN
Phrynopus brackiEN
Telmatobius sibiricusEN[0127:ANSOTF]2.0.CO;22003
Cochranella macheEN
Eleutherodactylus melacaraEN
Plectrohyla glandulosaEN
Aglyptodactylus laticepsEN
Eleutherodactylus glamyrusEN
Gastrotheca trachycepsEN
Eleutherodactylus grahamiEN
Litoria havinaLC
Crinia ripariaLC
Litoria longirostrisLC
Osteocephalus mutaborLC
Leptobrachium nigropsLC
Pseudis tocantinsLC
Mantidactylus argenteusLC
Aglyptodactylus securiferLC
Pseudis cardosoiLC
Uperoleia inundataLC
Litoria pronimiaLC
Litoria paraewingiLC
Philautus aurifasciatusLC
Proceratophrys avelinoiLC
Osteocephalus deridensLC
Gephyromantis boulengeriLC
Crossodactylus caramaschiiLC
Rana yavapaiensisLC
Boophis lichenoidesLC
Megistolotis lignariusLC
Ansonia endauensisNE[466:ANSOAS]2.0.CO;22006
Ansonia kraensisNE
Arthroleptella landdrosiaNT
Litoria jungguyNT
Phrynobatrachus phyllophilusNT
Philautus ingeriVU
Gastrotheca dendronastesVU
Hyperolius cystocandicansVU
Boophis sambiranoVU
Ansonia torrentisVU
Telmatobufo australisVU
Stefania coxiVU[0327:EDOSAH]2.0.CO;22002
Oreolalax multipunctatusVU
Eleutherodactylus guantanameraVU
Spicospina flammocaeruleaVU
Cycloramphus acangatanVU
Leiopelma pakekaVU
Rana okaloosaeVU
Phrynobatrachus uzungwensisVU

This is a small fraction of the frog species actually in GenBank because I've filtered it down to those that have been linked to Wikipedia (from where we get the conservation status) and which were described in papers with DOIs (from which we get the date of description).

I generated this result using this SPARQL query on a triple store that had the primary data sources (Uniprot, Dbpedia, CrossRef, ION) loaded, together with the all-important "glue" datasets that link ION to CrossRef, and Uniprot to Dbpedia (see previous post for details):

PREFIX rdf: <>
PREFIX rdfs: <>
PREFIX dbpedia-owl: <>
PREFIX uniprot: <>
PREFIX tdwg_tn: <>
PREFIX tdwg_co: <>
PREFIX dcterms: <>

SELECT ?name ?status ?doi ?date ?thumbnail
?ncbi uniprot:scientificName ?name .
?ncbi rdfs:seeAlso ?dbpedia .
?dbpedia dbpedia-owl:conservationStatus ?status .
?ion tdwg_tn:nameComplete ?name .
?ion tdwg_co:publishedInCitation ?doi .
?doi dcterms:date ?date .

?dbpedia dbpedia-owl:thumbnail ?thumbnail
ORDER BY ASC(?status)

This table doesn't tell us a great deal, but we could, for example, graph date of description against conservation status (CR=critical, EN=endangered, VU=vulnerable, NT=not threatened, LC=least concern, DD=data deficient):
In other words, is it the case that more recently described species are more likely to be endangered than taxa we've known about for some time (based on the assumption that we've found all the common species already)? We could imagine extending this query to retrieve sequences for a class of frog (e.g., critically endangered) so we could compute a measure population genetic variation, etc. We shouldn't take the graph above too seriously because it's based on small fraction of the data, but you get the idea. As more frog taxonomy goes online (there's a lot of stuff in BHL and BioStor, for example) we could add more dates and build a dataset worth analysing properly.

It seems to me that these should be fairly simple things to do, yet they are the sort of thing that if we attempt today it's a world of hurt involving scripts, Excel, data cleaning, etc. before we can do the science.

The thing is, without the "glue" files mapping identifiers across different databases even this simple query isn't possible. Obviously we have no say in how many organisations publish RDF, but within the biodiversity informatics community we should make every effort to use external identifiers wherever possible so that we can make these links. This is the core of my complaint. If we are using RDF to foster data integration so we can query across the diverse data sets that speak to biodiversity, then we are doing it wrong.

Here is a nice visualisation of this dataset from @orovellotti (original here), made using ecoRelevé:

AcNbdh2CMAA3ysc png large

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

TDWG Challenge - what is RDF good for?

Last month, feeling particularly grumpy, I fired off an email to the TDWG-TAG mailing list with the subject Lobbing grenades: a challenge. Here's the email:
It's morning and the coffee hasn't quite kicked in yet, but reading through recent TDWG TAG posts, and mindful of the upcoming meeting in New Orleans (which sadly I won't be attending) I'm seeing a mismatch between the amount of effort being expended on discussions of vocabularies, ontologies, etc. and the concrete results we can point to.

Hence, a challenge:

"What new things have we learnt about biodiversity by converting biodiversity data into RDF?"

I'm not saying we can't learn new things, I'm simply asking what have we learnt so far?

Since around 2006 we have had literally millions of triples in the wild (uBio, ION, Index Fungorum, IPNI, Catalogue of Life, more recently Biodiversity Collections Index, Atlas of Living Australia, World Register of Marine Species, etc.), most of these using the same vocabulary. What new inferences have we made?

Let's make the challenge more concrete. Load all these data sources into a triple store (subchallenge - is this actually possible?). Perhaps add other RDF sources (DBpedia, Bio2RDF, CrossRef). What novel inferences can we make?

I may, of course, simply be in "grumpy old arse" mode, but we have millions of triples in the wild and nothing to show for it. I hope I'm not alone in wondering why...

In the context of the TDWG meeting (happening as we speak and which I'm following via Twitter, hashtag #tdwg) Joel Sachs asked me whether I had any specific data in mind that could form the basis of a discussion. So, here goes. I've assembled some small RDF data sets that it might be fun to play with. Each data set is for frogs, and I've divided them into two sets.

Primary data
These data sets are essentially unmodified RDF fetched from data providers:
  • uniprot.rdf Uniprot RDF for frogs in GenBank
  • ion.rdf Index of Organism Names (ION) RDF for taxonomic names for frogs (filtered to just those names that are also in GenBank, the RDF comes from ION LSIDs)
  • crossref.rdf CrossRef RDF for DOIs for publications that published new frog names (obtaining using CrossRef's support for Linked Data for DOIs)
  • dbpedia.rdf Dbpedia RDF for frogs in GenBank (Update 2011-10-20: the dbpedia.rdf file is a bit big, so here is subset.rdf which has just the conservation status and thumbnail image)

These sources give us information on genomics (at least, they tell us which taxa have been sequenced), where and when the original taxonomic description was published, and by whom, as well as some information on conservation status and what the frog looks like (via Dbpedia). Ideally we just load these files into a triple store and then ask a bunch of questions, such as what is the conservation status of frogs sequenced in Genbank?, is there correlation between the conservation status of a frog and the date it was discovered?, who has described the most frog species?, etc.

My contention is that actually we can't do any of this because the data is siloed due to the lack of shared identifiers and vocabularies (I suspect that there is not a single identifier any of these files share). The only way we can currently link these data sets together is by shared string literals (e.g., taxonomic names), in which case why bother with RDF? So my first challenge is to see whether any of the questions I've just listed can actually be tackled using this data.

In a slightly more constructive mode, to see if we can make progress I'm providing some additional RDF files, based on projects I'm working on to link data together. These files may help provide some of the missing "glue" to connect these data sets.

  • linkout.rdf The list of links between NCBI and Dbpedia (based on mapping in iPhylo LinkOut)
  • ion_doi.rdf A subset of publications listed in ION have DOIs, this file links the corresponding ION LSIDs to those DOIs (this file is from an ongoing project mapping names to primary literature)

The first file links the ION and CrossRef RDF, so we could start to ask questions about dates of discovery, who described what species, etc.. The second file links NCBI taxon ids (in this case in the form of UniProt URIs) to Wikipedia (in the form of Dbpedia URIs). Dbpedia has information on conservation status, and some frogs will also have pictures, so we can start to join genomics to conservation, as well as make some visualisations.

I've now added another RDF file for 1000 georeferenced GenBank sequences for frogs. The file is genbank.rdf. This file is generated from a local, processed version of EMBL, and uses a mixture of Dublin Core and TDWG vocabularies. Here's an example of a single record:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<rdf:RDF xmlns:dcterms=""
<uniprot:Molecule rdf:about="">
<dcterms:description>Xenopus borealis voucher MHNG:Herp:2644.64
cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene, partial cds; mitochondrial.</dcterms:description>
<dcterms:subject rdf:resource=""/>
<dcterms:relation rdf:parseType="Resource">
<rdf:type rdf:resource=""/>
<toccurrence:identifiedToString>Xenopus borealis</toccurrence:identifiedToString>
<toccurrence:verbatimCoordinates>0.66 N 37.5 E</toccurrence:verbatimCoordinates>

I've added this simply so one could do some geographical queries.

Missing links
There are still lots of missing links here (for example, there's no explicit link between NCBI and ION, so we'd need to create this using taxonomic names), and we could add further links to the literature via sequences for taxa. Then there's the lack of geographic data. We could get some of this via georeferenced sequences in GenBank, but there's no RDF for this (Bio2RDF does have RDF for sequences but it ignores the bulk of the organismal metadata such as voucher specimens and latitude and longitude).

In many ways it's this lack of links that was point of my original email. The reality is that "linked data" isn't linked to anything like the extent that makes it useful. Simply pumping out RDF won't get us very far until we tackle this problem (see also my earlier post Linked data that isn't: the failings of RDF).

So, if you think RDF is the way to go, please tell me what you can learn from these data files.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

DeepDyve - renting scientific articles

Deepdyve buttonBit late, but I stumbled across DeepDyve, which provides rental access to scientific papers for as little as $0.99. The pitch to publishers is:

Today, scholarly publisher sites receive over 2 billion visits per year from users who are unaffiliated with an institution yet convert less than 0.2% into a purchase or subscription. DeepDyve’s service is designed for these ‘unaffiliated users’ who need an easy and affordable access to authoritative information vital to their careers.

Renting a paper means you get to read it online, but you can't print or download it, and access is time limited (unless you purchase the article outright). You can also purchase monthly plans (think Spotify for papers).

It's an interesting model, and the interface looks nice. Here's a paper on Taxonomy and Diversity (

Leaving aside the issue of whether restricted access to the scientific literature is a good idea (even if it is relatively cheap) I'm curious about the business model and the long tail. One could imagine lots of people downloading a few high-visibility papers, and my sense (based on no actual data I should stress) is that DeepDyve's publishing partners are providing access to their first-tier journals.

Taxonomic literature is vast, but most individual papers will have few readers (describing a single new species is usually not big news, with obvious exceptions). But I wonder if in aggregate the potential taxonomic readership would be enough to make cheap access to that literature economic. Publishers such as Wiley, Taylor and Francis, and Springer have digitised some major taxonomic journals, how will they get a return on this? I suspect the a price tag of, say, €34.95 for an article on seabird lice (e.g., "Neue Zangenläuse (Mallophaga, Philopteridae) von procellariiformen und charadriiformen Wirten" will be too high for many people, but the chance to rent it for 24 hours for, say, $0.99, would be appealing. If this is the case, then maybe this would encourage publishers to digitise more of their back catalogue. It would be nice if everything is digitised and free, but I could live with digitised and cheap.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

My favourite Apple moment

In light of today's news here's my favourite Mac, the original iBook.
In many ways, it wasn't the machine itself so grabbed me (cool as it was), it was the experience of unpacking it when it arrived in my office over a decade ago. In the box with the computer and the mains cord was a disc about the size of a hockey puck (on the right in the image above). I looked at it and wondered what on Earth it was. It looked like a giant yo-yo, with cable wrapped around instead of string. Then the penny dropped — it was the power supply. You plugged the mains cord into the yo-yo, then unwound just as much cord as you needed (oh, and when you connected it in to your iBook the plug glowed orange if the battery needed charging, green if it was fully charged). The child inside me squealed with delight (being a grown up I laughed out loud, rather than actually squealing).

The iBook still works (the battery is long dead, but plug the yo-yo into the mains and it still works), and it manages to run an early version of Mac OS X.

If anybody has to ask why people love Apple products, it's not because of the "brand", or the "exclusivity", it's because of the joy they can invoke. Someone cared enough to make the most mundane task — plugging a laptop into the mains — into a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Taxonomy - crisis, what crisis?

Following on from the last post How many species are there, and why do we get two very different answers from same data? another interesting paper has appeared in TREE:

Lucas N. Joppa, David L. Roberts, Stuart L. Pimm The population ecology and social behaviour of taxonomists Trends in Ecology & Evolution doi:10.1016/j.tree.2011.07.010

The paper analyses the "ecology and social habits of taxonomists" and concludes:

Conventional wisdom is highly prejudiced. It suggests that taxonomists were a formerly more numerous people, are in 'crisis', are becoming endangered and are generally asocial. We consider these hypotheses and reject them to varying degrees.

Queue flame war on TAXACOM, no doubt, but it's a refreshing conclusion, and it's based on actual data. Here I declare an interest. I was a reviewer, and in a fit of pique recommended rejection simply because the authors don't make the data available (they do, however, provide the R scripts used to do the analyses). As the authors patiently pointed out in their response to reviews, the various explicit or implicit licensing statements attached to taxonomic data mean they can't provide the data (and I'm assuming that in at least some cases the dark art of screen scrapping was used to get the data).

There's an irony here. Taxonomic databases are becoming hot topics, generating estimates of the scale of the task facing taxonomy, and diagnosing state of the discipline itself (according to Joppa et al. it's in rude health). This is the sort of thing that can have a major impact on how people perceive the discipline (and may influence how many resources are allocated to the subject). If taxonomists take issue with the analyses then they will find them difficult to repeat because the taxonomic data they've spent their careers gathering are under lock and key.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How many species are there, and why do we get two very different answers from same data?

GlobeTwo papers estimating the total number of species have recently been published, one in the open access journal PLoS Biology:

Camilo Mora, Derek P. Tittensor, Sina Adl, Alastair G. B. Simpson, Boris Worm. How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?. PLoS Biol 9(8): e1001127. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127
SSB logo final
the second in Systematic Biology (which has an open access option but the authors didn't use it for this article):

Mark J. Costello, Simon Wilson and Brett Houlding. Predicting total global species richness using rates of species description and estimates of taxonomic effort. Syst Biol (2011) doi:10.1093/sysbio/syr080

The first paper has gained a lot of attention, in part because Jonathan Eisen Bacteria & archaea don't get no respect from interesting but flawed #PLoSBio paper on # of species on the planet was mightily pissed off about the estimates of the number:
Their estimates of ~ 10,000 or so bacteria and archaea on the planet are so completely out of touch in my opinion that this calls into question the validity of their method for bacteria and archaea at all.

The fuss over the number of bacteria and archaea seems to me to be largely a misunderstanding of how taxonomic databases count taxa. Databases like Catalogue of Life record described species, and most bacteria aren't formally described because they can't be cultured. Hence there will always be a disparity between the extent of diversity revealed by phylogenetics and by classical taxonomy.

The PLoS Biology paper has garnered a lot more reaction than the Systematic Biology paper (e.g., the commentary by Carl Zimmer in the New York TimesHow Many Species? A Study Says 8.7 Million, but It’s Tricky), which arguably has the more dramatic conclusion.

How many species, 8.7 million, or 1.8 to 2.0 million?

Whereas the Mora et al. in PLoS Biology concluded that there are some 8.7 million (±1.3 million SE) species on the planet, Costello et al. in Systematic Biology arrive at a much more conservative figure (1.8 to 2.0 million). The implications of these two studies are very different, one implies there's a lot of work to do, the other leads to headlines such as 'Every species on Earth could be discovered within 50 years'.

What is intriguing is that both studies use the same databases, Catalogue of Life and the World's Register of Marine Species, and yet arrive at very different results.

So, the question is, how did we arrive at two very different answers from the same data?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Taylor and Francis Online breaks DOIs - lots of DOIs

TandFOnline twitterDOIs are meant to be the gold standard in bibliographic identifier for article. They are not supposed to break. Yet some publishers seem to struggle to get them to work. In the past I've grumbled about BioOne, Wiley, and others as cuplrits with broken or duplicate or disappearing DOIs.

Today's source of frustration is Taylor and Francis Online. T&F Online is powered by (Atypon), which recently issued this glowing press release:

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—20 September 2011—Atypon®, a leading provider of software to the professional and scholarly publishing industry, today announced that its Literatum™ software is powering the new Taylor & Francis Online platform ( Taylor & Francis Online hosts 1.7 million articles.
"The performance of Taylor & Francis Online has been excellent," said Matthew Jay, Chief Technology Officer for the Taylor & Francis Group. "Atypon has proven that it can deliver on schedule and achieve tremendous scale. We're thrilled to expand the scope of our relationship to include new products and developments."

Great, except that lots of T&F DOIs are broken. I've come across two kinds of fail.

DOI resolves to server that doesn't exist
The first is where a DOI resolves to a phantom web address. For example, the DOI doi:10.1080/00288300809509849 resolves to But the domain doesn't exist, so the DOI is a dead end.

DOI doesn't resolve
Taylor and Francis have digitised the complete Annals and Magazine of Natural History, a massive journal comprising nearly 20,000 articles from 1841 to 1966, and which has published some seminal papers, including A. R. Wallace's "On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species" doi"10.1080/037454809495509 which forced Darwin's hand (see the Wikipedia page for the successor journal Journal of Natural History. Taylor and Francis are to be congratulated for putting such a great resource online.

Problem is, I've not found a single DOI for any article in Annals and Magazine of Natural History that actually works. If you try and resolve the DOI for Wallace's paper, doi"10.1080/037454809495509, you get the dreaded "Error - DOI not found" web page. So something like 20,000 DOIs simply don't work. The only way to make the DOI work is append it to "", e.g. This gets us to the article, but rather defeats the purpose of DOIs.

Something is seriously wrong with CrossRef's quality control. It can't be too hard to screen all domains to see if they actually exist (this would catch the first error). It can't be too hard to take a random sample of DOIs and check that they work, or automatically check DOIs that are reported as missing. In the case the Annals and Magazine of Natural History the web page for the Wallace article states that it has been available online since 16 December 2009. That's a long time for a DOI to be dead.

There is a wealth of great content that is being made hard to find by some pretty basic screw ups. So CrossRef, Atypon and Taylor and Francis, can we please sort this out?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Linked data that isn't: the failings of RDF

OK, a bit of hyperbole in the morning. One of the goals of RDF is to create the Semantic Web, an interwoven network of data seamlessly linked by shared identifiers and shared vocabularies. Everyone uses the same identifiers for the same things, and when they describe these things they use the same terms. Simples.

Of course, the reality is somewhat different. Typically people don't reuse identifiers, and there are usually several competing vocabularies we can chose from. To give a concrete example, consider two RDF documents describing the same article, one provided by CiNii, the other by CrossRef. The article is:

Astuti, D., Azuma, N., Suzuki, H., & Higashi, S. (2006). Phylogenetic Relationships Within Parrots (Psittacidae) Inferred from Mitochondrial Cytochrome-b Gene Sequences(Phylogeny). Zoological science, 23(2), 191-198. doi:10.2108/zsj.23.191

You can get RDF for a CiNii record by appending ".rdf" to the URL for the article, in this case For CrossRef you need a Linked Data compliant client, or you can do something like this:

curl -D - -L -H "Accept: application/rdf+xml" ""

You can view the RDF from these two sources here and here.

No shared identifiers
The two RDF documents have no shared identifiers, or at least, any identifiers they do share aren't described in a way that is easily discovered. The CrossRef record knows nothing about the CiNii record, but the CiNii document includes this statement:

<rdfs:seeAlso rdf:resource="
&amp;id=info:doi/10.2108/zsj.23.191" dc:title="CrossRef" />

So, CiNii knows about the DOI, but this doesn't help much as the CrossRef document has the URI "", so we don't have an explicit statement that the two documents refer to the same article.

The other shared identifier the documents could share is the ISSN for the journal (0289-0003), but CiNii writes this without the "-", and uses the PRISM term "prism:issn", so we have:


whereas CrossRef writes the ISSN like this:

<ns0:issn xmlns:ns0="">

Unless we have a linked data client that normalises ISSNs before it does a SPARQL query we will miss the fact that these two articles are in the same journal.

Inconsistent vocabularies
Both CiNii use the PRISM vocabulary to describe the article, but they use different versions. CrossRef uses "" whereas CiNii uses "". Version 2.1 versus version 2.0 is a minor difference, but the URIs are different and hence they are different vocabularies (having version numbers in vocabulary URIs is asking for trouble). Hence, even if CiNii and CrossRef wrote ISSNs in the same way, we'd still not be able to assert that the articles come from the same journal.
Inconsistent use of vocabularies
Both CiNii use FOAF for author names, but they write the names differently:

<foaf:name xml:lang="en">Suzuki Hitoshi</foaf:name>

<ns0:name xmlns:ns0="">Hitoshi Suzuki</ns0:name>

So, another missed opportunity to link the documents. One could argue this would be solved if we had consistent identifiers for authors, but we don't. In this case CiNii have their own local identifiers (e.g., and CrossRef has a rather hideous looking Skolemisation:

In summary, it's a mess. Both CiNii and CrossRef organisations are whose core business is bibliographic metadata. It's great that both are serving RDF, but if we think this is anything more than providing metadata in a useful format I think we may be deceiving ourselves.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Orwellian metadata: making journals disappear

UnknownI've been spending a lot of time recently mapping bibliographic citations for taxonomic names to digital identifiers (such as DOIs). This is tedious work at the best of times (despite lots of automation), but it is not helped but the somewhat Orwellian practices of some publishers. Occasionally when an established journal gets renamed the publisher retrospectively applies that name to the previous journal. For example, in 2000 the journal Entomologica Scandinavica (ISSN 0013-8711) became Insect Systematics & Evolution (ISSN 1399-560X):

(diagram based on WorldCat xISSN history tool, rendered using Google Charts.)

Content for both Entomologica Scandinavica and Insect Systematics & Evolution is available from Ingenta's web site, but every article is listed as being in Insect Systematics & Evolution, and this is reflected in the metadata CrossRef has for each DOI.

For example, the paper
Andersen, N.M. & P.-p. Chen, 1993. A taxonomic revision of pondskater genus Gerris Fabricius in China, with two new species (Hemiptera: Gerridae). – Entomologica Scandinavica 24: 147-166

has the DOI doi:10.1163/187631293X00262 which resolves to a page saying this article was published in Insect Systematics & Evolution. The XML for the DOI says the same thing:

<issn type="print">1399560X</issn>
<issn type="electronic">1876312X</issn>
<journal_title>Insect Systematics & Evolution</journal_title>

In one sense this is no big deal. If you know the DOI then that's all you need to use to refer to the article (and the sooner we abandon fussing with citation styles and just use DOIs the better).

But if you haven't yet found the DOI then this is problem, because if I search CrossRef using the original journal name (Entomologica Scandinavica) I get nothing. As far as CrossRef is concerned the DOI doesn't exist. If, however, I happen to know that Entomologica Scandinavica is now Insect Systematics & Evolution, I rewrite the query and I retrieve the DOI.

It's bad enough dealing with taxonomic names changes without having to deal with journal names changes as well! It would be great if publishers didn't indulge in wholesale renaming old journals, or if CrossRef had a mechanism (perhaps based on WorldCat's xISSN History Visualization Tool) to handle retrospectively renamed journals.