[Taxacom] encyclopedia of life

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Mon May 14 09:10:37 CDT 2007


I think EoL is a fine idea as far as indirectly generating funding for
non-EoL taxonomic work, since NSF requires a web presence for results,
and here is a ready-made one. Publicity is always good for science. My
previous comments were on behalf of taxonomists now driving taxis or
consulting for environmental firms. There are indeed many institutions
that happily support taxonomists who doubtless will find it interesting
and challenging to contribute pages gratis to EoL, doubtless myself
included. How many pages before the novelty wears off is a question.
There are about 10,000 "staff members" in the Index Herbariorum, of
which say half are practicing taxonomists, or 5,000 worldwide. Say there
are three times as many practicing zoology taxonomists, or 15,000.
That's 20,000. Divide 1.8 million by 20,000 and we get 90 species. With
total buy-in, it's doable, though here we assume all species are equally
accessible and amenable to study. The problem is in unequal distribution
of species and expertise. (Divide the number of beetles by the number of
beetle experts.) 

So we get to the next problem:  overlap of expertise.

Taxacomers are pretty adept at detecting lax areas in enthusiastic
descriptions of EoL. One lax area is the concept of "my" page. Each
taxonomist is in the past rewarded with the contribution of "my" species
and "my" new ideas or observations about its comparative biology as
relates to taxonomy. If the result is now to be considered a database
that may be modified by other experts, then we have a new thing
entirely, a species by committee; in fact a committee that often cannot
come to a consensus. Ever. 

The Wikipedia has a new rival, the Citizendium, that is supposed to
provide more expert oversight and better ombudsing, but I can't see even
this system helping when two experts see or contribute different things
(maybe because they live in different areas of the world or examined
different specimens or their ocular micrometers are badly calibrated).
"Black Maples have fuzzy lower leaf surfaces, and are good species. This
is MY page." "Not always! and they are not good species! and it is not
YOUR page!" "Always! or they are not Black Maples! which is a good
species! Get your OWN page!"

One might ask, in addition to my previous unanswered question: "Will the
EoL be based primarily on ToL?", the question "Will MY EoL page be
preserved as is (unless I change it) or can other scientists change the
comments and description at will, with merely a notice to me that the
"publication" is no longer "mine" but that of a committee?" 

Thus, "Are EoL pages equivalent to formal scientific publications one
can add to a CV?" Or are all registered contributors considered equal
experts as far as any particular page is concerned.


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Richard H. Zander 
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Missouri Botanical Garden
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richard.zander at mobot.org
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