[Taxacom] iSpecies with Wikipedia

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Wed Mar 26 11:53:22 CDT 2008

Roderic Page wrote:

>  >>> and WikiSpecies:
>>>  Wikispecies is almost useless, and I don't want to make "blind  
>>>  links".
>>  How so? Do you think it is flawed, or just too incomplete?
>Flawed because it isn't clearly separated from Wikipedia (which has 
>greater traction), has a bizarre classification, and is demonstrably

The "bizarre classification" problems one sees in Wikispecies reflect 
two fundamental things: (1) Wikispecies, like Wikipedia, can only 
present a SINGLE classification (no alternative schemes can be 
incorporated except as footnotes), and (2) the classification must be 
a ranked Linnaean hierarchy.

Taken together, those two things are inevitably going to lead to 
many, many cases where the classification will not match either (a) 
the present consensus classification of a certain clade (e.g., 
presently, bees are classified as a monophyletic unranked taxon 
called "Anthophila") or (b) the personal preferences of a given 
taxonomist or group thereof (e.g., many folks now believe termites 
are not an Order containing several families, but a single family 
within the Order Blattodea).

The other factor creating problems here is that few taxonomists 
actually give the ENTIRE hierarchy for their organisms in their 
publications, and this can cause conflicts between different portions 
of the hierarchy - that is, someone revises the higher classification 
of some group, and taxonomists working at lower levels are unaware of 
this change, and propose a new lower classification that does not 
dovetail with the revised higher classification; a third party trying 
to piece together the entire hierarchy is faced with a challenge to 
reconcile the disparate classifications into a coherent unit.

It's issues like this that demonstrate the potential need and utility 
of HAVING a genuine consensus classification online and open to 
immediate modification; if every taxonomist in the world participates 
in the discussion, AND - the one crucial change needed to the "open" 
Wiki model - there are standards for arbitration of disputes (i.e., a 
proposed change cannot be made until certain explicit and objective 
criteria are met), then I see this as an attainable and desirable 
goal. The model behind how Wikispecies and Wikipedia operate is very 
close to the model needed to make this work, but the taxonomic 
community largely ignores these resources (if for no other reason 
than the justifiable concern that any work one does to improve the 
resource will be undone by a vandal or incompetent), and no model 
will work without *participation*. Frankly, I have a hard time 
imagining ANY way to convince every taxonomist in the world to 
collaborate with all the others on a *voluntary* basis: there are too 
many "rugged individualists" who will refuse to join in the effort, 
if not actively work to undermine it for their own selfish reasons.

If you don't think the Wiki model is a viable approach to the matter, 
even if modified to require approval for changes, then what 
alternative do you see that will draw in all the world's taxonomists 
to contribute?


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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