[Taxacom] Wikispecies as an open alternative to Catalogue ofLife

Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at freeler.nl
Fri Dec 16 02:35:45 CST 2011


I would not want to present myself as any kind of expert on
the taxonomy of nitwits, but this classification of "two kinds 
of nitwits" strikes me as wrong; obviously the situation is 
more complex than that, which is why I was glad to use
the quotation.

Probably it is safe to postulate that a nitwit is somebody
who operates outside his area of competence, without being
aware of his limitations?

Paul 
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Stephen Thorpe 
  To: Paul van Rijckevorsel ; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
  Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2011 11:23 PM
  Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Wikispecies as an open alternative to Catalogue ofLife


  some of the comments by Paul are arguable, but perhaps only the last really needs clarification: 
  there are two kinds of nitwit: (1) the kind that disregards the rules; and (2) the kind that plays by the rules, using them as a weapon to defend their own nitwitious contributions!
  clearly, type (1) nitwits are relatively easy to deal with, using the rules as a weapon against them
  type (2) nitwits, on the other hand, are less frequent but more problematic, but more so on Wikipedia than on Wikispecies (which has more tightly structured format), and more so in certain areas of study (eg. philosophy) that are not so tightly bound to verifiable facts

  Stephen


  From: Paul van Rijckevorsel <dipteryx at freeler.nl>
  To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
  Sent: Thursday, 15 December 2011 9:55 PM
  Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Wikispecies as an open alternative to Catalogue ofLife

  This is a recurring topic, but some quick points:
  * it may be that Wikispecies already is better than the
  Catalogue of Life, but is that really an achievement?
  * Wikimedia does not have a NOR-policy; the NOR-
  policy belongs to Wikipedia. There are projects in
  Wikimedia that embrace OR (Wikiversity often being
  mentioned as an example), and in fact Wikispecies
  also is an OR-project.
  * I agree with Stephen Thorpe that there is no technical
  reason why there could not be multiple competing
  classifications in Wikipedia. In some versions of
  Wikipedia (including the English one) groups of users
  have chosen to allow only one classification, but this
  is a deliberate and idiosyncratic choice, and in fact is
  pretty explicitly disallowed by central Wikipedia-policies
  (notably the NPOV-policy).
  * " ... incompetent nitwits ... deleting or vandalizing
  legitimate contributions - but you may need to act
  as the enforcer yourself!" is highly unrealistic; anybody
  doing so is likely to have the OWN-policy thrown in his
  face. Actually, the " ... incompetent nitwits ... deleting or
  vandalizing legitimate contributions ..." are the reason
  most commonly given by competent, long-time editors
  who leave Wikipedia.

  Paul

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: "Stephen Thorpe" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
  To: "Doug Yanega" <dyanega at ucr.edu>; <TAXACOM at MAILMAN.NHM.KU.EDU>
  Sent: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 11:56 PM
  Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Wikispecies as an open alternative to Catalogue
  ofLife


  I suspect that Wikimedia is as "political" as any other institution, at
  least in some ways. However, (1) Wikispecies exists; and (2) it seems stable
  (very rarely does the site go down for a short time).

  The rationale behind the site Species-ID explains some of the concerns about
  Wikimedia sites: the scientists who developed Species-ID didn't like
  anonymous contributions, and also didn't like the NOR policy of Wikimedia.
  The latter does give Species-ID a significant advantage over Wikimedia sites
  FOR SOME PURPOSES. However, if what we are interested in doing is just the
  integration of published biodiversity data, with names linked to the
  literature using BHL, etc., then Wikispecies is a great place to do this,
  though, for some reason, Rod page seems to think that his BioStor, and also
  Mendeley are better places.

  >From my perspective, the major drawback of the Wikispecies/Wikipedia
  >approach to classification is that it really does not accommodate for
  >multiple competing classifications in the same interface. That is, you
  >cannot present the same taxon as both a
  family (following authority A) and a subfamily (following authority B),
  etc.<

  actually, it is possible! At least it is easy to indicate alternative views.
  Other projects suffer from the same drawback, so it isn't really a problem
  unique to Wikimedia sites. Perhaps if Doug could indicate an actual example,
  we can see how we might handle it?

  I reiterate that full edit histories are preserved for Wikimedia articles,
  and these can be linked to by way of stable URLs. Vandalism can only "put a
  new sheet of paper on the pile", it cannot alter the history. Hence, if you
  were to cite a Wikimedia article in a serious scientific context, you would
  site the current version not qua current version, but via the stable URL to
  that version of the article in the article history. This link would then be
  unaffected by any subsequent edits, by vandals or anyone else. On the other
  hand, EoL links to Wikipedia articles by capturing them as they are at a
  time, and then displaying them as yellow until they are "validated" by one
  of their curators (which rarely happens). In this context, it seems rather
  disingenuous to avoid possible updates and improvements of the article ...

  call me cynical, but I still maintain that reinventing the same
  infrastructure over and over is seen as a good easy way to spend research
  money (after institutions have "recouped their overheads"), which makes the
  Wikimedia sites unattractive precisely because they are independently
  funded. In other words, if scientific institutions don't create their own
  versions of Wikispecies, their employees are going to have to do something
  much more difficult (e.g. taxonomy) in order to keep the same money flowing
  through the system ... and what are all those GBIF and EOL people going to
  do to make ends meet?? Rubberstamping is great work, if you can get it,
  though you might suffer from RSI in your elbow!!

  another crucial issue is that no system is perfect. Yes, any nitwit can edit
  Wikimedia, BUT errors are effectively locked into other sites like EoL (when
  will they get around to fixing this (http://eol.org/pages/478954/overview),
  for example, and the "trusted" rubberstamp on the misidentified image really
  annoys me!)

  Stephen


  ________________________________
  From: Doug Yanega <dyanega at ucr.edu>
  To: TAXACOM at MAILMAN.NHM.KU.EDU
  Sent: Thursday, 15 December 2011 11:12 AM
  Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Wikispecies as an open alternative to Catalogue of
  Life

  There are a large number of "pro" arguments supporting the use of
  Wikispecies as a legitimate portal for biodiversity knowledge, not
  the least of which is that it has not only a robust infrastructure
  and flexible (and utilitarian) interface, but a funding source that
  is, presumably, not subject to politics or struggles for external
  support. It is basically a no-strings-attached gift to the scientific
  community, and we are free to make of it whatever we'd like. That so
  few scientists seem to exploit this seems more of an issue of
  perception than of reality; folks seem to believe that any work they
  contribute will inevitably be deleted or vandalized by incompetent
  nitwits, and this is simply untrue. The concept of a wiki is that if
  you are a contributor, you are ALSO a participant. That is, if you
  are serious about your contributions, then you remain involved
  *after* you have made your contribution, rather than just plopping
  something down, and then going away forever and hoping no one touches
  it. Wikis are self-policing, but they also have formal editorial
  policies in place, and mechanisms for ensuring that those policies
  are enforced. That includes policies to prevent incompetent nitwits
  from deleting or vandalizing legitimate contributions - but you may
  need to act as the enforcer yourself!
  If one can get past the perception of wikis as the
  playgrounds of vandals, and recognize them for the potentially
  valuable resources they are, there are only a few significant "con"
  arguments, and if there is to be a debate about the utility of wikis,
  it should focus on these *real* drawbacks, rather than imaginary ones.
  >From my perspective, the major drawback of the
  Wikispecies/Wikipedia approach to classification is that it really
  does not accommodate for multiple competing classifications in the
  same interface. That is, you cannot present the same taxon as both a
  family (following authority A) and a subfamily (following authority
  B), etc. This has significant consequences, some good, and some bad.
  Since taxon pages are not indpendent of the ranks they are assigned,
  there can only be ONE overall classification framework, which would
  be ideal for the user community, but the taxonomic community is
  unlikely to be able to agree upon it (should all interested parties
  become involved). There is too little consensus and stability
  involving higher-level ranks for a single master classification -
  however *desirable* it may be to have one - to be unanimously
  accepted. It is one thing for an idiosyncratic taxonomist to publish
  idiosyncratic classifications and then pretend that their work is
  meeting with limited acceptance, but it is another if they are
  directly confronted by a mass of dissenters who refuse to acknowledge
  their work, and maintain the "official" classification according to
  consensus (where "limited acceptance" translates to nothing, since
  the hierarchy is all-or-nothing). It would make the disputes in the
  community less academic, and more personal, so such an approach is
  virtually guaranteed to cause greater friction and alienation - and,
  therefore, meet with resistance, especially from anyone whose
  concepts are not mainstream. At its best, this level of consensus can
  be viewed as a natural extension of peer review, and entirely
  positive and desirable, but at its worst, it can amount to
  censorship, which is not desirable. I can't see any easy way to set
  things up so the former is permitted but the latter is not, which
  therefore puts the entire enterprise at risk of losing support -
  thus, the "single classification" model has to be treated as a
  drawback so long as this issue of censorship is a legitimate concern.
  John Grehan's point regarding phylogenies is, in part, not
  directly applicable (since you can have ranks and nested groups
  without an explicit phylogeny), but certainly along similar lines.
  But just because you can't please everyone, does that mean we can't
  ever even attempt a consensus classification?

  Sincerely,
  -- 

  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)
  http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
  is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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