Specimen Labels

Victor Naveau Victor.Naveau at advalvas.be
Tue Sep 14 15:36:45 EDT 1999

Someone should give in!
The only way of writing dates logically is:

13 April 1998                       or 1998-04-13                   or 19980413


How should the date be written?

Already in 1992 in the magazine "ENTOMO-INFO", number 2, page 35 of the Antwerp Society of
Entomology, an article from my hand was published containing a proposition in which I insisted that
henceforth the date should be written in a logical way. Entirely in numbers, always with
specification of the century. First the year, then the month and finally the day. In using this
notation of the date one could avoid a great many mistakes.
I call this way of writing a date "logical" because, like in a classification the greater division
comes first, hence first the year, then the month and finally the day.
This date, written logically, can easily and without any conversion, be used in most programs by the

Here follows the translation of this text.


A great many people have problems with the spelling of dates. Certainly since the dawn of the
'Computer Era' it has become more and more difficult to establish uniformity and in the long run
everybody will be at a loss what to do about writing a date. There is no logic in it at all.
Additional programmes have become necessary to make the different systems of different countries

Artists and antique collectors are at their wits' end because in some cases objects have not been
dated and in others abbreviations have been used, so that extra research is needed to remove all
possible doubt. A person possessing an object of the year '72 will have great difficulty in proving
that the full date is 1872 or 1972. And what about our grandchildren in the year 2073 ?
A lot of papers that have to be filled in have a pre-printed date, e.g.  ......... 19.. .

As a consequence, because of idleness, people have started to leave out the figures indicating the
century or have replaced them by an apostrophe in other papers as well. Thus, from childhood on, we
have been taught not to use the number indicating the century and that is how problems have started.
It will not be simple to get out of this generally adopted bad custom. In a few years time, at the
turn of the century, problems will become even bigger.

Leaving out the number for the century is never permitted. The apostrophe may only be used for
repetitions, but without the obligation to leave out the century.
e.g. the Great War 1914 -'18, the period 1935-1939,   the schoolyear 1993-'94.

In letterheadings or titles it is very rude to represent the month by a number.
One always writes 26th August 1984, or even better : Community, 26th August 1984.
The use of 'date as postmark' or 'posting date' is ridiculous and invalidates a document and turns
it into something worthless.

If the date is used as a number for identification, stock-taking or classification, one forms a
logical and calculable number : 'century year month day'. This makes classification, sortingand
looking up a lot easier and the date can be used as an identification-numberas well.

This application finds more and more acceptance, especially if one wants to code files by computer
or if one wants to let the computer classify or sort data according to date. Adding and subtracting
of the date is also possible to define and compare time intervals.

Internationally one now uses in trade and administrative documents and
procedures : 1937-12-30   and 1994-03-09
or in numbers : 19371230   and 19940309 .

With an additional number or with hours, minutes and seconds one gets, according to the standard of
the Belgian Institute of Standardization : 1994-03-09 11:16:33 or 19940309111633.

While sorting the computer doesn't distinguish between hyphens, decimal points or colons, but
alternating and with spaces and commas things start going wrong. There are no sorting problems with
1994-03-09 11:16:33, considered as two words.

I hope it is now clear that it is important, when dating and stock-taking all sorts of data and
documents, to write the date completely and logically henceforth.

BE - Antwerpen, 1993-01-23 19:12  ir V.F.Naveau.

 Mr. Frans Janssens introduced this text, October 7 1994 at 11 o'clock on the Internet, entitled
"Spelling of Dates”.
And he asked the following question:  "How do you write dates? We want to find out how in the future
we will write the dates of credential of our collections in our databases. Every reaction of the
part of the 'Entomo-1 society' will be recognized with acknowledgments.”

He had some reactions of which we give you a translation and a summary.

 The first reaction came from 'Forrest W.Howard, Ft. Lauderdale Res. & Educ. Hundred. 'University
Florida. 7 Oct 1994 14: 28: 45.
"Your posting was very interesting. I had never seen the system described in your posting. It is
very good. In the U.S. (and perhaps elsewhere) the most common style used by entomologists is to
provide the day as an arabic numeral, the month as a Roman numeral, and the full year (including the
century). Thus, 7 October 1994 is written as 7-X-1994.
Although Americans in general list the month first (October 7, 1994), we entomologists discourage
the practice, because others will abbreviate this as 10-7-1994 , in which case we don't know if it
means the 10th of July or the 7th of October.
In any case, the system that you describe is super-excellent - if everybody would use it."   Signed
:  Sayonara, Bill Howard.

 What Bill doesn't add, is that for the months in Roman numerals one must foresee at least four
spaces ('VIII' for the month of August), ('.V. .' for May). If all these empty spaces are not
filled, the computer can’t use them. Anyone who doesn't read or write well, will interpret the 'IV'
as 'III', the ‘II’ as ‘11’; moreover, 'IV' and 'VI' are often interchanged by mistake.

 A second reaction came from Doug Yanega of the Illinois Natural History Survey, Mexico City, sent
on October 7 1994 14: 28: 45.
"The database I have developed for Mexican bee specimens is day-month-year (as opposed to the US
month-day-year system). I have never seen anyone use Year-month-day for scientific purposes."
"If it ever became necessary to adopt this system, any database software worth owning could easily
convert the entire database in one step to another. If Your database can't perform operations on
entire data fields, you need better software."

 A third reaction came from Lou Bjostad of Mexico City, sent on October 7 1994 15: 01: 35.
He reacted to Doug Yanega, who had pretended to have never seen the system year month day used for
scientific purposes.
"Actually, the 'USDA-APHIS National Agricultural Pest Information Service' (NAPIS) is a large
computer database that uses the year-month-day format for entries from cooperators nationwide,
including information on insect pests, weeds, patogens, and biocontrol agents of various taxa."

Lou Bjostad thinks the year-month-day system offers a great advantage. “It is a system least likely
to cause confusion between Americans (who commonly use month-day-year) and the rest of the world
(which instead commonly uses day-month-year). The  year-month-day  system has some elements of both,
but it effectively announces itself by putting the year first (after all, who with a grain of sense
would use the only other variant, a year-day-month system ?).”

 A fourth reaction came from Steven Halford. He also reacted to the statement that the system would
not have been used for scientific purposes.

"The Canadian Heritage Information Network' also uses  "YYYYMMDD"  format in the date fields of the
Natural Sciences Database.

 A fifth reaction came from  the 'Museum Informatics Project, Berkeley' which feels treaded on its
toes by Doug Yanega, who pretended that one only has to procure better software if one doesn't know
how to read the dates. They asked Doug Yanega:
 "You’re right recommending "better" software, but then even that has its limitations.  How do you
represent :
June, 1907
early May, 1922
Spring 1894
Jul-Aug, 1917
Feb 29, 1994  (or any other error/impossible date)"?
Of course, this is for retrospective data capture - no one would write dates in these ways now,
right ?
And, fortunately, there are not that many kinds of notations in our collections, right ?
In any case, people come up with various conventions for representing these "period" and
"indefinite" forms of date, but often rules on how to collate these forms into date sequences
require special considerations which are usually outside of the standard capabilities of even
"better" software.
There will always be some difficulties in order to indicate the interval of time. In these cases it
is necessary to replace the dates by some substitutes adding a note on the possibility of making a
mistake and the original dating.
Lots of specimens are collected with notations like "morning", "early spring", "7:30am", "9:00-11am'
etc. For which special conventions may be needed, since even software that handles date right down
to the millisecond will not deal with "arround sunset".

 And Doug Yanega replied:
"If you are using something like filemaker, only the record labeled "Spring" is not easily dealt
with - I've entered lots of labels filling all other listed alternatives into the INHS Plecoptera
database. In case 1, you leave the "day" field blank, same for case 2; case 3 you give a range of
March-June, if that much; case 4 you enter as is (the record will then show up in searches for
either July or August); in case 5 you put February 28, and put the 28 in brackets. It still shows up
in searches, but lets the reader know it was altered. The nice thing about something like Filemaker
is that one can easily have a field which contains the entire original label, and set up a series of
fields which break down all the essential data, allowing for quicker sorting and modification (for
example, if there are other problems with the original record, like not listing the country, or
state, or county, etc., you can just add it or correct it without "concealing" the original data).
This depends on what you're trying to do with the data - if you want to graph collection records by
data intervals, then obviously you'd have to create "surrogate" dates for anything you wanted to be
included.  You're trying then to take a type of data treated as text and use it as a numeric.

If you need a field for time of day, make it a text field. The total amount of materials in any
given collection that has time of day listed (at least in insect collections) is so small, why
hogtie yourself with a numeric field for such a small number of records ? If the need ever arose the
search through the database by hour, it'd be easier to have it list ALL non-zero "hour" fields and
just scan through them by eye to pick out the ones covering the specific time you're searching for
(as opposed to jumping through programming and coding hoops to make sure purely automatic search can
find every conceivable pertinent record - or simply abandoning all vague data).

 October 10 1994 Frans Janssens sent back a message to Bill Howard of the University Florida  who
called the system terrificly excellent.
"Hi Bill, my friend will be happy to hear this. And would you use it this system? Thank you for your
clarifying answer and encouragement. Greetings."
 The same day Bill's answer arrived.
 "Yes, I find the system very appropriate to reproduce the date and the time like you present it. It
is very logical."

 And since then no reaction by 'Entomo-1' on Internet.

 Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick, chapter 82:
"There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method".

Perhaps the logical number proposed, is after all not the better ?

  Victor F.Naveau, Antwerpen.  1996-05-21 18: 44: 33 .

Victor Naveau, agr.ir, Lange Beeldekensstraat 272 , BE - 2060  Antwerpen.
Phone : +32 (0)3 236 07 65 , E-mail : Victor.Naveau at advalvas.be
                                                         : entomo-info at skynet.be
- Vic's Taxonomy page
- Royal Entomological Society of Antwerp

We don't proceed with revolution, we do with evolution.

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