[Taxacom] encylopedia of life

Alex Wild alexwild at email.arizona.edu
Sun May 13 19:43:39 CDT 2007

I'm sure EoL will be a fine infrastructure for the sharing of 
biodiversity information.

However, that isn't what the EoL press release is trumpeting.  The press 
release and media coverage boast pages for 1.8 million species.  That's 
an entirely different beast.  It will require massive amounts of 
content, and content requires incentives for content providers. 

I fear that EoL has misdiagnosed the nature of the taxonomic 
impediment.  EoL falls into the common trap of offering a technological 
fix for what is, at heart, not a technological problem.  Most of the 
people who failed to volunteer their expertise in previous online 
biodiversity projects did not do so for lack of technology.  In this 
light, I find David Patterson's comment #3 a bit naive.  The 
biodiversity experts largely do have sufficient bandwidth, they have 
access to current nomenclature, and they usually have access to the 
literature of their groups (the file cabinets of taxonomists both 
professional and amateur tend towards overflowing).  What they lack is 
time and incentive.

Alex Wild
University of Arizona

David Patterson wrote:
> As one of the EOL team, I'd like to comment on some of the 
> issues that have been raised.
> 1.  We do have active taxonomists as part of the team.
> 2.  EOL is intended to be a communal initiative.  Its role 
> is to mobilise data, present it through a common but very 
> flexible portal, and so serve audiences with a broad 
> spectrum of needs.  To make this possible, we will promote 
> a virtual workbench, where anyone can add to amend openly 
> accessible software to link, index, annotate, analyse or 
> visualise biodiversity information that are accessible 
> through the internet.  Anyone will be able to register 
> themselves as a data provider so that their content can be 
> seen through the workbench and potentially through the EOL
> 3.  As to whether this initiative will have more success 
> that some of the others, there are a number of 
> developments that make success considerably more probable. 
>  The first is that the internet itself has moved on, the 
> bandwidth can now accommodate biology in a way that was 
> not previously possible; the style of the internet has 
> been very interactive (and therefore makes communal 
> participation possible - one of two key factors that will 
> permit this project to scale); there have been innovations 
> in aggregation (mashup) which we are familiar with in 
> terms of Google images, but in the biological context 
> through web sites like iSpecies or in a more clunky form 
> in micro*scope many years earlier;  we have the 
> foundations of a global index in the form of uBio's 
> NameBank and CoLP has now gone beyond the half way point 
> in developing an authoritative filter for that index; 
>  there will be a fairly extensive network  that 
> synchronizes the major names providers; TDWG now 
> Biodiversity Information Standards is providing data 
> schemas, data transfer standards, and progress towards the 
> semantic web for biology; we have taxonomically 
> intelligent services that can overcome the 'many names for 
> one organism' problem that besets federation of data; we 
> will have access to the content of 1.500,000 biodiversity 
> texts through the BHL so addressing a key bottleneck in 
> taxonomy and therefore making EOL a tool that serves 
> taxonomists; the funding is appropriate to the scope of 
> the challenge, and we have a wonderful video (that was 
> provided for free by Avenue A RazorFish - illustrating 
> that the idea is inspiring others to help us address the 
> challenge)
> 4.  This is a communal enterprise.  EOL is not a funding 
> agency.  It will increase visibility and relevance of 
> biodiversity data that is put on the web.  It will offer 
> to taxonomists high visibility, something that the 
> taxonomic community should be able to exploit in their 
> search for support.
> 5.  The teams will start to assemble in the second part of 
> this year.
> David Patterson
> www.eol.org
> eolinformatics at mbl.edu
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