Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What LSIDs are good for

Recently, I found David Shorthouses blog post on LSIDs (Life Science Identifiers) where he reports that apparently several LSIDs from different data sources exist for a distinct (spider) taxon. His intended use for LSIDs was to use them instead of the real taxon names and to "confidently link names with other sources of information such as information about the type specimens, gene sequences, synonyms, specimens etc". But for this purpose he concluded LSIDs are useless without a centralized identifier registry which ensures that a taxon name has only one LSID.

Well, replacing taxon names by unique identifiers is of course not the most obvious usage of LSIDs. LSIDs are only useful to persistently link to a electronic ressource and are not suitable to link to an abstract entity such as a taxon name. Instead, LSIDs link to a set of metadata, which contains the information which was considered to be useful by a LSID authority. Thus, LSIDs for taxon names link to nothing more than to the electronic resource (metadata, data sheet) which represents the LSID authority's concept of this taxon (btw.: a very interesting article on the whole complex of taxon names, identifiers, authorities, 'real taxonomists' and 'name users' is the Nature paper written by Nimis (2001): A tale from Bioutopia.).

LSIDs are however extremely useful for taxon names when they link to an electronic ressource which serves as authoritative record for this name. Especially LSIDs for newly assigned names which are officially registered by the ICZN in ZOOBANK can serve as citation for the name. This is similar to the usage of DOIs for scientific primary data. R.Pyle for example linked his newly assigned fish names to ZOOBANK records by LSIDs in his recently published paper. An impressive demonstration how useful LSIDs for taxon names can be.

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