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Plant Challenge in North London

Posted by Sandy Knapp on Jul 29, 2012 3:49:12 PM

Plant Challenge Day 1 from North London

 

After the wowser event on Friday night (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-19020830) that even had a botanical motif at the end - data cleaning began early on Saturday morning.......

 

My task is to check names of people in the database, eliminate duplicates and correct spellings, and to fill in fields like first name and full name. Sounds easy.......

 

I made it through the letter A, well almost. Checking the identity of collectors of plants involves seeing where they were when - for example two Stephen Allens - one from the 1890s and one from the 1970s, could exist, so just assuming they are the same is dangerous. Once I had determined people were indeed different, I cross-checked with numerous external web databases ( like that at Harvard http://kiki.huh.harvard.edu/databases/publication_index.html, or the one in JStor Plant Science http://plants.jstor.org/) to double check first names, initials and dates.

 

Along the way I correct diacritical marks (accents) in non-English surnames - it is easy when entering data to leave off the accent in a name like Fernández - the computer thinks A. Fernandez and A. Fernández are different people - it is only a machine after all - when in fact they are one and the same. So the collections attributed to each need to be merged.

 

All this takes time, but in the end is worth it. I also managed to find a few plant name mysteries while dealing with people - all tiny little things that once solved put another puzzle piece in place for our eventual documentation of the diversity of Solanum. Even though my eyes go squiffy from staring at the screen it is great to feel like things are getting cleaned up - and it just reminds me how much I really do like these plants - they are great!

 

We are also getting ready to go to a meeting in France with some eggplant (aubergines for we Brits) breeders - so I have also been thinking about how to present our results on the taxonomy of African Solanum (done by Maria Vorontsova - see her previous blogs on collecting in Africa http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/blogs/wildspiny/tags/africa?fromGateway=true) in the most user-friendly way - a different sort of challenge!

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