Although creating a network of biological collection databases requires, and is receiving, attention from the international community beyond Europe, there are three main reasons why a strong European focus on this project has emerged First, the European Commission is materially supporting the development of natural science collections as an infrastructure Second (and closely associated with the first point) is the establishment of the European Research Area, which is predicated on the need for better integration of research and its facilities within the region. Wider cooperation exists in intercontinental forums (e.g . , the Taxonomic Database Working Group, TDWG) and projects, but European expertise plays a significant role in global progress Third, the wide spatial and temporal coverage of collections in European institutions means that they share common problems and need common solutions
Care should be taken to ensure that providing access to data in natural science collections does not get divorced from the function of these collections . Wheeler, Raven and Wilson (2004) make the point that it is naive to '...see the information technology challenge [for taxonomy] as liberating data from cabinets' . They note rightly that providing access to bad data is unacceptable While we do not dissent from this view, we believe that building a high-quality, virtual infrastructure of natural science collections is a task that will help expedite the very revisions for which these authors and, we suggest, the entire collections community, wish
That there is an awareness of the problem is well illustrated by Bailly (2003; see earlier comments) There is no quick means of improving the data access infrastructures, but some progress is being made with automating data cleansing . A period of 100 years elapsed between the time of Linnaeus and the middle of the nineteenth century, when there was an explosive increase in number of species of organisms described (e. g . , Gaston et al . , 1995, for moths of the Lepidoptera family Geometridae) We are at an early, and probably rather crude, stage in the process of developing electronic access to data in natural science collections; mobilizing data is the current priority Certainly, problems of data quality need thought and are there to be addressed Yet it would surely be wise to make a concerted effort to improve access to the information of what is indeed an uneven sample, but the only truly long-term sample that we have Taxonomy is founded on specimens
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