[Taxacom] Google, Wikipedia, and Fungi

Cynthia Parr parrc at si.edu
Thu Sep 3 08:24:56 CDT 2009

Stephen Thorpe says:

>  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 actually a forum for scientists to contribute new and unpublished information, that would be a whole different playing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".

I'd rather not get into semantic arguments (we're also mulling over
good ways to be "semantic," including adding Andy Mabbett's
microformats!). There is no reason why compilers of knowledge on
either Wikipedia or EOL can't be the generators of that knowledge. At
the same time there's every reason to expect that they often won't be
the generators of that knowledge.  EOL sensu stricto is not designed
to be a forum for new and unpublished information, though I for one am
open to that. There's clearly a vast amount of legacy knowledge still
to be gathered together, some of which is either inaccessible or
non-re-usable by the general public. Is there a problem with inviting
the scientific community to be involved in the process of sharing that

> 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.

On EOL problems can be flagged (and commented on, and down-rated, and
hidden), but not fixed. Fixing has to be done at the source. That's
why it would be very cool to have people fixing Wikipedia, with those
fixes reflected on EOL, because it will be much easier than trying to
fix things in members-only databases.

> Clearly, however, the focus of EOL is on the contributors rather than the end users.

This is sort of a chicken and egg thing. It could also be argued that
to deliver a quality product for end users, focus on contribution and
curation is necessary.

 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...

Each early career (not necessarily young) applicant has a mentor who
is not early career, and, we hope, the engagement of other scientists
in their research communities. I'm not sure how this results in lower
information quality.Yes, we are investing in taxonomy and other
biodiversity-related sciences. And to those of you who have written,
yes we are seeking funding so we can offer mini-grants to established
scientists, too.

In fact, it would be interesting if someone proposed to spend their
Fellows time fleshing out and editing Wikipedia. Certainly I expect
many proposals to beef up *other* online sources that should be
discoverable via EOL.

We all know that a program like this is just a drop in the bucket. The
vast majority of online information about organisms will continue to
come either from enthusiastic volunteers, the blood-and-sweat of
scientific database builders, and scanning and digitization efforts.


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