[Taxacom] Google, Wikipedia, and Fungi

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Wed Sep 2 16:58:36 CDT 2009


There seems to be some lack of clarity all around. The Wikis are truly electronic encyclopedias, in that they are only concerned with compiling already published information, and not with original research. The fact that EOL explicitly calls itself an encyclopedia in its name, suggests that this is also the case for EOL. However, then I'm confused about you saying things like "those same contributors won't share their knowledge there", and the relevance of CC licensing. To my mind, what contributors to Wiki or EOL do is compile knowledge that is already present (but scattered) in the public domain, not share their own intellectual property. Of course, if EOL is actually a forum for scientists to contribute new and unpublished information, that would be a whole different playing field altogether! EOL would then become some kind of "open-ended mega-journal".

Some of what you say about "quality control" is slightly misleading. For purely pragmatic reasons, Wikipedia may be introducing restrictions on contributions to a few articles of enormous popular interest. I believe that this is largely due to the recent death of Michael Jackson almost crashing the Wikipedia servers. I can't see the attraction myself, but nevertheless, I can't quite see any species pages getting up there to rival MJ is popularity!

Quality control needs to be intrinsic to an article, not imposed from the outside. An article should be written in a way that makes it self-evidently correct, by way of being fully explicit in its citation of references for each piece of information, and about any arbitrary or subjective choices that have been made.

I am not familiar enough with EOL to be sure how easy it is for anybody who notices an error or ommission to fix or flag it.

One thing is clear, despite all the "propaganda", EOL and Wiki have very different overarching philosophies. The primary philosophy of Wiki is to freely make information accessible to as many people as possible. The focus is on the end user, not the contributors. Clearly, however, the focus of EOL is on the contributors rather than the end users. A previous taxacom post by you advertised an initiative whereby young, newly appointed scientists are being offered money to contribute to EOL. I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong with injecting more money into taxonomy by these means, but it rather does make EOL into a very different beast from Wiki, with LESS (not none, but just less) emphasis on information quality for the end user, and more emphasis on injecting money into taxonomy...


From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Cynthia Parr [parrc at si.edu]
Sent: Thursday, 3 September 2009 1:36 a.m.
To: Paul van Rijckevorsel
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Google, Wikipedia, and Fungi

Paul and others,

It is true that the CC licensing EOL is using puts off some
contributors. Because this is the same licensing that Wikipedia is
using, those same contributors won't share their knowledge there,
either. That means less impact for this knowledge, and unfortunate
gaps in the megaprojects (GBIF faces the same problem).

Personally, I'd be delighted if folks share their knowledge on
Wikipedia. EOL and anybody else can and will re-use it, and add value
to it. My philosophy has always been, engage with the project that
suits your own needs. That means, if you have an existing online
community database, by all means contribute there. Where possible,
that database should offer its information to others. That includes
Wikipedia and EOL. The value that EOL adds is the assurance that
review status is going to be clear, that it should eventually be a
relatively comprehensive source that includes legacy sources, and that
there will be APIs useful for scientists and other projects.

Steven Thorpe said that some consider EOL to be closed source. Not
true. Every person on the planet could contribute text or images to
EOL. Granted, it isn't as easy as Wikipedia and we need to work on
that. But there is an Add text button everywhere and you and your
10-year old niece all could contribute to EOL knowing that your work
won't get overwritten by someone else.

As it happens, we've been working on the strategy for Wikipedia
content and would be happy for feedback. Those of you who have
registered as EOL curators have already seen this.

The idea is that we'll bring Wikipedia content onto EOL pages in two
ways, to the extent possible. First, we'll bring the whole thing
(including references) into a single EOL section. Second, we'll
automatically break up the sections and put them into the appropriate
EOL chapters and subchapters. We'll only be able to do that if our
parser can do it sensibly, so we won't try if the structure of the
page isn't standard.

The Wikipedia content will be immediately publicly displayed on EOL
with a yellow background -- clearly unvetted -- until an EOL curator
reviews it and decides to trust it. Then that content remains the same
on EOL until a curator provides a new URL pointing to the specific
version of the WIkipedia page that they want to replace it.

This curator step is crucial -- it is how the scientific community
indicates to the world that a particular Wikipedia page version passes
the review test.

What do you think? Would you be more willing to contribute to
Wikipedia under these circumstances? Is it too much work for EOL
curators? Is it a hybrid that is ungainly or has vigor?

Just FYI -- Wikipedia is in the process of establishing its own
quality control mechanism. In certain parts of the project, a trusted
editor must review content before it shows up on the site. My
understanding is that to be a trusted editor you have to have a
certain number of edits on Wikipedia. Even if that's only typos.

Rod Page said "Leaving aside the negotiations that would be involved,
it would be straightforward to insert pages for every "accepted" taxon
into Wikipedia." Amen. Someone should use this statement (and selected
bits from this thread and your analysis) in the negotiations.


Cynthia Sims Parr
Director of the Species Pages Group
Encyclopedia of Life http://www.eol.org
Office: 202.633.8730
Fax: 202.633.8742
parrc at si.edu

Mailing address:
National Museum of Natural History
P.O. Box 37012
MRC 106
Washington, DC 20013-7012


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