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Education Science

Earth's Species To Be Cataloged On the Web 147

Matt clues us in to a project to compile everything known about all of Earth's 1.8 million known species and put it all on one Web site, open to the world. The effort is called the Encyclopedia of Life. It will include species descriptions, pictures, maps, videos, sound, sightings by amateurs, and links to entire genomes and scientific journal papers. The site was unveiled today in Washington where the massive effort was announced by some of the world's leading institutions. The project is expected to take about 10 years to complete; it starts out with committed funding for 1/4 of that."
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Earth's Species To Be Cataloged On the Web

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  • by sethawoolley ( 1005201 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:00AM (#19047863) Homepage
    Wikipedia is great and all, but its stated intent to not validate its data (unlike Citizendium, for example) means it has a limited usefulness.
  • Site Extinction (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Bob54321 ( 911744 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:32AM (#19048063)
    With that massive jpg on the site, it won't be long until the site becomes extinct.
  • Storytime (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zombie_striptease ( 966467 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:50AM (#19048153)

    A few years ago, when I was babysitting the neighbor's kid, I spotted an odd grashopper in the street. It was larger than any of the species I've seen up here before (Pacific Northwest), nearly four inches long, and mottled grey in a way that matched the asphalt pretty closely, with bright blue on its hind legs. It stayed very still for the most part, but occasionally walked a few inches before stopping again (I'm talking over a span of a few hours). Getting closer revealed that it looked like it was sucking on the road itself (or maybe some of the lichens within? I dunno). Now I spent much of my childhood chasing and catching grasshoppers in this same area, so this quite fascinated me and I wondered if there wasn't some urban offshoot of Orthoptera I hadn't previously known about. I let the bug be, but resolved to scour the web for information on it. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be found. No matching descriptions, and certainly no pictures. It didn't occur to me until much later that it may have been an as yet undocumented species.

    This is all to say, it is about damn time we had something like the Encyclopedia of Life. Wikis are great to a certain point, but an organized project with funding, set on being as comprehensive as possible? Sign. me. up.

  • Museum Collections (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BayaWeaver ( 1048744 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @01:09AM (#19048271)
    It would add tremendously to its usefulness if they could include high quality pictures of the specimens in the great museum collections. Especially for stuff like birds, butterflies, beetles where there's a lot of diversity and variations. There's no mention of this being done in the EOL FAQ. I'm aware that it take plenty more resources to do this but it will be worthwhile. There's still new discoveries hidden in those vast museum collections.
  • Google (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tree131 ( 643930 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @01:22AM (#19048355)
    I wouldn't be surprised if Google got behind the funding and made it super-searchable... :)
  • by Jeppe Salvesen ( 101622 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @02:09AM (#19048575)
    .. and send the pic to the biology dept of your local university. They'll probably be happy to identify the species for you - especially if you tell them you've looked around but couldn't identify it.

    (Oh - and a large, unknown-until-now species of grasshoppers in the Pacific Northwest doesn't sound very probable. But hey - you never know!!)
  • by sethawoolley ( 1005201 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @02:17AM (#19048607) Homepage
    And the grandparent wasn't a WikiTroll? I had mod-points but decided to post instead of moderate.

    Do people really believe that "anybody can edit" and "accurate information suitable for reference" are one and the same?

    Look at the question the grandparent asked -- it exposes a hidden assumption that liberal editing and accuracy are identical.

    Citizendium still allows liberal editing, but on top of it they have a peer-review system in place to approve snapshots of articles. They aren't mutually exclusive. However, Wikipedia has a policy of not having any process to gain any modicum of authority.

    Citizendium has its issues too, like that it hasn't fully articulated its desire to have authoritative processes in concrete terms that aren't couched in Larry Sanger's own degree-oriented biases, but at least it's trying.

    My whole point was that the Encyclopedia of Life has a reason of existence outside of the no-holds-barred lack of authority that Wikipedia provides.

    References and Echo Chambers are entirely two different things.

    For making that distinction, I'm modded as a troll. Whatever. /., echo away.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @02:26AM (#19048647)
    I've described new species and worked in systematics for around the past 10 years. Of course by "all" them mean 'vertebrates', 'flowering plants' and some 'fish'. This sounds *a lot* like passed failed attempts, including the ill-fated All-Species project that was to be funded by .com millions. What most people don't realize is that many, perhaps most, of those 1.8 million species have terrible descriptions that may be hundreds of years old, and are basically represented by a name alone. While vertebrate taxonomy may be in the position to build comprehensive species pages that might be useful in this context, the real diversity lies in elsewhere (insects, bacteria, etc.), and remains for all intents and purposes undescribed (based on estimated total species). Look closely, this effort will be data-base related, and will try to federate already populated lists of names, and simply gathered data (i.e. stuff that won't be of any use to the practicing scientist). It will be woefully underfunded, and very little money will make its way to the people who can make a difference- practicing taxonomists. Want to make a difference with respect to biodiversity? Fund the people on the ground (and institutions, i.e. research collections) doing the work of describing what is new.
  • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:12AM (#19049843) Homepage
    If anything else, Wikipedia's way of doing things has also proved a couple of things :

    - YES, you can find trolls, vandals, spammers and such ...BUT...
    - Liberal editing gives better growing speed. Wikipedia has grown much more faster than any other work that requires reviewing.
    - Liberal editing is much better for very small and rare subjects that *almost* nobody care about. In organised work, there aren't enough ressource to distribute to those subject and they are left un addressed. In liberal editing regimes, there always be an - albeit small - community of dedicated people who'll write on the rarest subjects. Granted : There is less guarantee about the accuracy without peer review, but at least it's a good starting point.

    So there is a place for both EOL (for providing "official" reviewed information) and for WikiMedia's species (where you'll still find information about some obscure bug that almost nobody cares about - but all the 4 labs in the world that intensively study it have written an article about).

    Just like there's a place for both traditionnal encyclopedia and wikipedia.

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. -- John Keats