[Taxacom] "Why would you waste your time editing Wikipedia?"

Jim Croft jim.croft at gmail.com
Sat Sep 20 01:52:20 CDT 2008

The Wikipedia model of information compilation is a very sound and
defensible approach to information management but something that is
not universally appreciated.  It is all too tempting to make a list of
what you as an expert think or 'know' without bothering to defend or
justify it or tell anyone whose system or concepts you decided to go
with on that day.

In our taxonomic indices we have adopted the Wikipedia approach (way
before Wikipedia in fact) - the compiler can not just put something
somewhere because they want to - they have to cite a reference, any
reference, where it happened.  It is the reference that becomes the
indisputable fact - Smith moved this this species to this genus then
in this publication and cited these synonyms - can't argue with it -
it happened.  We will also record the fact that Jones published
another synonymy that agreed (or not) with Smith - can't argued with
that either.  This forms the raw material foundation of our taxonomy
from which we can derive a consensus or compromise and document points
of conflict.
(An interesting side effect of this approach is that you do not need
to be an expert, world or otherwise, to compile a bomb-proof list -
you just need to be botanically literate - is someone complains that
their favorite treatment is not covered, if they can produce the
reference, it is a simple matter to add it.)

However, to make the system actually work we have had to be a bit
liberal in the definition of reference to include such things as
'pers.comm.', but this is not out of step with practice in the

Coming back to your Wikipedia example, conceptually there should be
nothing wrong with citing a specimen as a reference, for example,
"Found forming large understorey populations in open Eucalypt forest
(Brown 3452 in herb. CNS)".  It could be argued that specimens are
quite a bit less evanescent than a databse record or a website.  A
loose leaf-book if you like...  :)


On Sat, Sep 20, 2008 at 4:20 PM, Una Smith <una.smith at att.net> wrote:
> It is important to keep in mind, however, that Wikipedia allows no
> original research.  Thus, personal observations of specimens cannot
> inform a Wikipedia article directly;  there must be a published
> reliable source.  That is not to say your expertise is not valuable,
> but expertise in field or herbarium does not trump looking things
> up in a library.

Jim Croft
jim.croft at gmail.com

"Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality."
- Joseph Conrad, author (1857-1924)

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