[Taxacom] Encyclopedia of Life & Taxonomist Funding

alexwild at email.arizona.edu alexwild at email.arizona.edu
Fri May 11 13:18:55 CDT 2007

I agree in broad part with Bjarte's comments that the EoL will provide a highly
useful standardized infrastructure for working taxonomists, and that some of
the criticisms of it miss the mark.  However, I do have a couple of comments
about the project.

First, there are a number of existing projects that already form a solid
infrastructure for dissemination for systematics and natural history
information.  These, like the EoL, rely on voluntary participation on the part
of taxonomic experts, and years later most of these are virtual ghost towns. 
The internet is littered with largely content-free biodiversity sites.  These
sites are not infrastructure-limited but content-limited.  It isn't clear how
another project to fund more infrastructure but not content will avoid their
fate.   I'd love to be proven wrong on this point, but it seems to me that the
mentality of "If we build it they will come..." hasn't worked in the past. 
What is needed is a different strategy, not to take the same old hole and dig
it deeper.

Second, differences in opinion over the EoL are not necessarily a divide between
those younger folks who are familiar with database use and the dinosaurs who
aren't.  Rather, it seems to me a divide between those whose career structure
fits well with the EoL and those that don't.  Not everyone has the luxury of a
museum position that rewards participation in public biodiversity outreach. 
Large swaths of the taxonomic expertise that cover the tree of life is held by
people whose desire to contribute is outweighed by the financial needs of the
families they have to support.

If EoL has hope of covering even a fraction of what the press releases claim it
will, EoL needs to implement a funding body that supports content contributors.
 Ideally, this would be in the form of a grant program targeted at experts whose
day jobs don't ordinarily allow for participation in the EoL.  Otherwise the EoL
will be like all the other biodiversity projects on the internet: archipelagos
of completed taxa floating in a great sea of emptiness.

Alex Wild
University of Arizona

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