[Taxacom] while we're on the topic...

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Fri Mar 27 13:02:34 CDT 2020

While I suspect at least a few readers rolled their eyes at the 
suggestion offered to John Grehan regarding entering taxonomic data into 
Wikispecies and Wikipedia, I'd like to advocate this as a very 
reasonable suggestion - though while maybe not for John's purpose, then 
for any of us who have taxonomic expertise, access to primary 
literature, and are presently doing much of our work online due to 
various social distancing measures in place. There are a lot more laymen 
and students around the world who are extracting scientific information 
from the internet today, in part because of the recent crisis, so 
helping improve these important resources is a very timely endeavor.

Both WS and WP are substantial community crowd-sourced resources, and 
it's generally true that typing a taxon name into Google will give one 
or both of these wikis among the top hits, if not THE top hit. This 
means that time and effort spent entering data into these resources is 
not being wasted; it is being viewed by LOTS of people, and used by lots 
of people. The utility of these resources depends upon quality control, 
however, and that depends upon having *lots of taxonomists* who are 
involved in seeing to it that the information is both *up-to-date* and 
*accurate*. At present, it's a fairly small but dedicated core group of 
taxonomists, including myself, who are handling the bulk of this work, 
and it would be spectacular to have some more of you come join us in the 

You can start simple; have you published any peer-reviewed papers in the 
last few years describing new taxa or revising an existing group? If so, 
just go into WS and WP and see if the taxa in your work appear, and if 
they follow the accepted classification. If not, then update things 
accordingly, with citations to your work. The process of editing is very 
straightforward and intuitive (most of what you would need to do can be 
accomplished by cutting and pasting with editing of similar content; 
even entire articles can be good templates), and - for the most part - 
there are very few administrative policies you would need to be 
concerned with. The two most significant are the "No Original Research" 
policy, which means that until and unless you can provide a link to a 
peer-reviewed citation that includes the information you wish to add (a 
"Reliable Source"), you should*not*add it (otherwise it might be 
removed), and the policy surrounding "Undue Weighting", which basically 
means that if there are reliable sources that are in conflict*andno 
community consensus* as to which is correct, then all should be cited 
and the conflict discussed directly and impartially, rather than the 
editor arbitrarily or subjectively choosing the one they prefer.

The existing taxonomic infrastructure in both places is largely complete 
down to the family level, so it is mostly the inclusion of ranks below 
family that would be significant, though there are still some regions of 
conflict in higher ranks in WS, where some recent large-scale changes 
have not yet been fully incorporated (mostly because they are 
labor-intensive changes). Again, so long as you are adhering to the 
policies mentioned above, and not failing at the technical aspects 
(e.g., formatting of citations and such), these resources work in a 
ratchet-like fashion; improvements are retained, but not vandalism. The 
more traffic a page receives, the faster any damage is fixed, so you 
should never worry about whether a contribution you have made will 
persist, or whether someone will come along and screw with it. WS in 
particular sees essentially no vandalism at all.

I will similarly put in a plug for iNaturalist, another crowd-sourced 
project that could sorely use assistance from actual taxonomists, not 
only to help correct glaring errors in their classification hierarchy, 
but especially to help fix glaring errors in the identifications of 
images that are posted on the site. I know a significant number of 
instructors who - in lieu of being able to take students into the field 
- are presently using (or intending to use) iNaturalist in their 
teaching curriculum, and this means they REALLY need some help from 
experts to prevent students from learning things that are untrue. For at 
least a few of you, the process will work both ways, too - that is, the 
photos on iNaturalist may very well contribute to your own research, 
with new distribution and phenological data, or even the revelation of 
entirely new taxa.

I do hope that a number of you will step forward and start contributing; 
now more than ever before we need to do what we can to ensure that 
people have easy access to genuine science rather than misinformation.


Doug Yanega      Dept. of Entomology       Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314     skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (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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