[Taxacom] TED-prize for EO Wilson: some thoughts regarding thefuture of science communication

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Fri Mar 9 02:18:23 CST 2007


Here some quotes out and comments from Wilson TED-lecture: Building the
Encyclopedia of Life. 

The following is an excerpt from Wired
(http://blog.wired.com/business/2007/03/bill_clinton_ou.html)

"
Biologist E.O. Wilson followed Nachtwey by saying that he came on behalf of
"insects and other small creatures," to "make a plea for them." Wilson's
wish: "I wish that we will work together to help to create the key tool we
need to inspire preservation of earth's biodiversity: The Encyclopedia of
Life." As I understand it, this would be a biological Super-Wikipedia, a
collaborative project among scientists and amateurs that would contain
information about all life on the planet.

"We live on a mostly unexplored planet," Wilson emphasized. Recent years
have seen the discovery of two new kinds of whales, a new kind of elephant,
a distinct new kind of gorilla, and more. And on the microscopic (and
smaller) scale, the earth is filled with the "dark matter of the biological
world," the bacteria, which are only beginning to be discovered.

"Our lives depend upon these creatures," Wilson said. He estimated that 500
species of friendly bacteria live symbiotically with us in our mouths and
throats, and that they probably fend of pathogenic bacteria. When it comes
to species discovery, "Scientists are like explorers in a rowboat launched
onto the Pacific Ocean." (Wilson also allowed that he believes "true
aliens," creatures from outer space, might live among us on earth in the
form of a bacterial species, which would have had billions of years to
arrive.)

The "human juggernaut" is destroying the earth's biodiversity, Wilson said,
through habitat destruction ("including climate change"); the spread of
invasive species, such as pathogenic bacteria and viruses, into every
country; pollution; population expansion; and overharvesting, driving
species into extinction through over-hunting and -fishing. (Wilson used the
opening letter of each of these elements to create the acronym "HIPPO.")
Previous cataclysms of this sort, Wilson said, such as "the last one that
ended the age of dinosaurs, took 5 to 10 million years to repair."

In order to prevent catastrophe, Wilson said, "we need to have the biosphere
properly explored." He called for "a biological moon shot," a project on the
scale of the mapping of the human genome to map and discover the biological
code of all of the life on the planet. The project, he said, could transform
the science of biology and inspire a new generation of biologists to
continue the quest that started for him 60 years ago: "to search for life,
to understand it, and finally, above all, to preserve it."
"


Donat


-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Donat Agosti
Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2007 3:28 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] TED-prize for EO Wilson: some thoughts regarding
thefuture of science communication

EO Wilson recipient of the TED award

 

http://www.ted.com/conference/flashpage.cfm?conferenceKey=2007

 

On March 8, EO Wilson will receive the TED Prize. It is a very prestigious
award by the 1000 thought-leaders, movers and shakers in Technology,
Entertainment and Design. The winners receive USD100,000 and can formulate a
wish which the members of the TED community pledged to help to fulfill.

 

Congratulations to Ed Wilson to yet another great award, another
confirmation of his outstanding achievements!

 

Let's speculate that Ed Wilson is going to fulfill his boyhood dream of an
encyclopedia of life for ants. So, what would be needed to make this dream
reality? 

 

Ants are already on of the best documented group of animals in the world.
There is an online catalogue of all the ants of the world updated as soon as
another species is added  to the currently known 11,981 species. This
includes a digital library linked to from the species citations to pdfs of
all the non-copyrighted descriptions. Currently, all these over 4,000
publications are being transformed to text by the Internet Archive, and the
special mark-up schema, taxonx. is added for species and treatments or the
descriptions of the species.  There are an estimated 6,500 species
documented with high resolution, magnificent standard images, even well
worth printing in large scale and hanging them on your wall. Through Brian
Fisher's and Jack Longino's superb collecting efforts in such biologically
important areas as Madagascar and Costa Rica, ants have most likely one of
the best documented surveys for any group of animals world wide, easily
accessible online. The evolution of ants is well documented through large
scale DNA-based analysis. On top of this, data aggregator such as ispecies
are using mash-up technologies to collect all these information
automatically - information which is added by a large, sprawling community
worldwide. This infrastructure and its content already has a broad impact
beyond the ant world, especially into education and other life sciences
sectors

 

What is missing? There are three issues, that is building up and maintaining
the global infrastructure, the transfer of legacy data, that is publications
and specimen data into the digital realm, and the generation of new research
as input into such a system, which . 

 

TED could help make advances in each of these three areas.  Most likely, the
biggest impact, and one with an impact well beyond ants alone, would be to
get the TED crowd to agree to build up a Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
repository and resolver for all the systematics legacy publications, the
descriptions of the species, the species names, and the specimens. These are
the basic building blocks of systematics through which the entire
information on animals and plants could be pulled together now, but
especially in a semantic Web or Web2.0 environment. It would also be the
best  complement to the Biodiversity Heritage Library by the large US and UK
natural history museums and institutions which will free knowledge hidden in
millions of published literature.

 

Linking a statement with its evidence

Such a DOI based system would allow linking any comment made on the
distribution or behavior of a species to its original  observation or
reference specimen with an  attached Global Positioning System record. This
will allow to pinpoint not only the proper name of and the specimen itself,
but also its precise geographic origin which is living up to and can made
the best out of high resolution satellite or map data, such as now publicly
available at Google-Earth. Mash-up technologies would allow getting all
additional information needed automatically, such as DNA-BarCode sequence,
conservation status, studies on the biology or medical use or the increasing
number of images and movies on Youtube or Yahoo as examples.

 

Open access to biodiversity knowlege

An agreement by the publishers to allow open access to all the articles in
their journal covering the description of species, or even better
biodiversity and conservation will have a similar impact as the applications
of DOI's. Alternatively, the use of specific mark-up in their journal
articles, delimiting the description allowing automatic data mining and
extraction and thus building up the global Encyclopedia of Life.

 

Imaging

Finally, taking images of all those groups of ants which are increasingly
used in surveys and to measure the loss of biodiversity ought to be another
priority, since images are by far the most important element to identify
species. This would ideally complement ongoing world wide efforts by a
rapidly increasing crowd of specialists and amateurs.

 

Getting this infrastructure up would enable anybody in the world, from E.O.
Wilson in his little home town in Alabama to any place in the developing
world to participate in this feast of knowledge and motivate more people
like Awatif Omer in Khartoum to pursue the discovery of new species in such
places like Sudan.  The usage of all this information by the crowd, rather
then expert's opinion, would then decide what the most authoritative
contributions are

 

------------

Catalogue of the ants of the World: http://antbase.org <http://antbase.org/>
(in collaboration with the Hymenoptera Name Server): literature digitized
with partial support from the Atherton Seidall Foundation at the Smithsonian
Institution.

 

Online scientific images of ants: http://antweb.org <http://antweb.org/> ;
http://www.evergreen.edu/ants/AntsofCostaRica.html,
http://mcz-28168.oeb.harvard.edu/mcz/FMPro

 

Mashups: ispecies (
http://darwin.zoology.gla.ac.uk/~rpage/ispecies/?q=Proceratium+google
<http://darwin.zoology.gla.ac.uk/~rpage/ispecies/?q=Proceratium+google&#x002
6;#x0026;submit=Go> &#x0026;#x0026;submit=Go) and
http://ispecies.blogspot.com/

 

Biodiversity Heritage Library: http://bhl.si.edu/

 

Taxonx: an example of a systematics specific mark-up schema:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/taxonx

 

An overview of the  global ant community:
http://antbase.org/ants/publications/21146/21146.pdf

 

 

 

 

Dr. Donat Agosti

Science Consultant

Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History and Naturmuseum der
Burgergemeinde Bern

Email: agosti at amnh.org

Web:  <http://antbase.org/> http://antbase.org

Blog:  <http://biodivcontext.blogspot.com/>
http://biodivcontext.blogspot.com/

Skype: agostileu

CV <http://antbase.org/agosticv_2003.html> 

Current Location <http://antbase.org/agosti_loc_bern.kmz> 

Dalmaziquai 45

3005 Bern

Switzerland

+41-31-351 7152

 

 

 

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