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Earth's Species To Be Cataloged On the Web

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the can-you-spell-noah's-ark dept.

Education 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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Survival of the fitest (-1, Flamebait)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047801)

And if one of those species drops off the radar, I guess it wasn't meant to be...

Plaease stop evolving now... (3, Funny)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047971)

We can't keep up!

Re:Plaease stop evolving now... (3, Funny)

Headcase88 (828620) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048329)

Homer: "Now, honey, poachers are nature's way of keeping the balance. Whenever there are so many species that people get confused and angry, a poacher is born."

Special thanks to snpp [snpp.com] .

Super Project? (1)

mlawrence (1094477) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048149)

This reminds me of projects I would have my peons complete in games like Civilization, Galactic Civiliations, Warcraft etc. It is being built to amaze the masses and focus our attention to the wonders of the internet. Once it is built it will give society a "bonus", but that bonus will be short lived. In 10 years who knows if we will even use the internet? In 10 years we could all be connected in a mesh wireless network, receiving public domain info as fast as we needed it.

One certainly doesn't need a tool like this now unless that person works for an institution (like the CDC) that will probably have a better database than the web one. But it is cool.

Re:Super Project? Definitely (2, Informative)

turkeyfish (950384) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048857)

There is a far greater need for this kind of project that you realize. Very few people are familiar with even a small number of species that they can identify and distinguish from others. For many species the amount of information available is vast and spread over the globe so that for most species, only the "tip of the iceberg" appears on the internet or even in many monographs. Perhaps most importantly, we as humans depend on these myriads of species for our very survival, often without even realizing it (eg. Have you taken a breath today? If so, could you name and identify the species that provided it to you? What can you tell us about whether these species will survive climate change or other human induced disturbances?) With a rapidly (catastrophically) changing world, our very survival will depending on a clear understanding of how these species are interacting, how they will adapt or fail to adapt to human-induced global changes, such as climate change, habitat destruction, loss due to competition from invasive species, etc.

Because in the past the natural world was vast and largely undisturbed, it acted as a buffer that insulated us from the kinds of changes in biodiversity we will see in the future. We have in many ways already spent this patrimony and our future as a species is now far less certain. We tend to underestimate the damage that billions of humans operating mostly in total ignorance have on the subtle creations and interactions that it has taken 2.5 billion years of earth history to produce. We are talking about myriads of interactions that without the some type of electronic network, we have no hope of understanding in the time frames necessary to make fundamental decisions about future human welfare. Whether the network is wireless or still largely nailed to the www 10 years into the future is hardly material compared to the question of whether or not we will be able to put this information grid in place in time for it to make a difference for humanity's future.

My concern (as a practicing fish taxonomist) is whether the task of constructing the "database" may, like so many of these kinds of projects before, dry up or divert resources critically needed for experts to simply learn how to identify many of the organisms and properly name them. Organisms don't come with ID tags and while one can use "molecular markers", one has to establish a map between the markers and the whole organisms being identified. A molecular marker, will not create an isomorphism between usage of a name in the previous literature, without the ability to assess the validity of the identification at each step used. This requires expert identification. This problem is compounded by the fact that most organisms actually have had multiple names that have been inconsistently used to discuss varying aspects of their biology. Sadly, the human expertise needed to make identifications is very small. The problem is not that one can not make an ID. The problem is establishing a scientific basis to know whether the ID is accurate and then consistently applying it as one interprets previous usage of names. At each stage of the compilation process the ID's have to correspond or one is doing little more than creating a giant "mash" in which multiple species are being confused, with respect to this or that bit of information. A project such as this tends to gloss over the practical difficulties by indicating that it will be "working with the experts", without precisely saying how.

A critical element is how will such experts be supported going forward so that they can afford to participate in a meaningful, sustainable way. Sadly, big projects have a way of diverting critical resources toward on-line compilations that are often impressive to the layperson, but full of inaccuracies that are apparent only to an expert. Its not clear what institutional mechanisms are in place for some form of distributed, "self-correction" or who will decide what and how editorial (taxonomic?) decisions will ultimately be made. There are a host of other issues relating to intellectual property and attribution for professional that may also make the goals difficult to attain.

Nonetheless, the people involved are top notch and this kind of project is badly needed and often it takes a high profile project for the entire issue to achieve the level of visibility and priority it urgently requires. Another concern is whether the resources needed to do it right are there. $10 million seems like a lot of money, but distributed over 1.8 million species its not very much. Especially, if one recognizes that a large fraction of the world's organisms have yet to be identified. If one were to include microbial species the number is probably in the tens of millions.

If we could find a way to divert a just couple of months of spending that is heading to Iraq (about 10 billion $), it might have a chance to succeed over a 10 year period. To give some sense of perspective, I study a group of about 1000 species of fishes. It has taken me about 30 years to learn how to confidently distinguish them in a scientific way and to compile what is known about them. A "comprehensive" bibliography of what has been written about them is now roughly 1,500 pages long. Descriptions of the species and synonymies (mappings of old or incorrectly applied names to valid names) and lists of available materials (about 30,000 specimens) have added perhaps another 1,500 pages at this point. The current state of my efforts leaves yet another 10,000 specimens scattered in world museums yet to examine. Although such information such as this could be used for input into the EOL, it is a constant battle of data gathering, editing and reediting that I expect will take me another 10 years to "complete" and I am only dealing with a minute fraction of all organisms. If one multiplies a roughly equivalent level of effort across all taxa, one begins to fathom the scale and complexity of what is envisioned in the EOL project.

However, regardless of the beauty of the web pages and the sophistication of the data structures and web technologies used to implement it, it won't be of much use unless the underlying taxonomy and biology are sound. It may be that the relevant scientific community needs to regard contributions to the EOL, much like it currently does for scientific publication. Unfortunately, fully open information "published" on the web have in only a limited number of instances yet reached this kind of professional standard. Likewise, the mechanisms for attribution that can be used by participants to translate such contributions into financial support for ongoing research is only vaguely addressed by the project. One might think that for the project to be fully a success, it will need to create a new paradigm for how biodiversity studies are to be done in the future. Let us pray it succeeds and that the "deciders", who will use this information to make critical decisions about the fate of these species (including our own), will have the good sense to use it wisely.

Re:Man I just had a moment (2, Funny)

bprice20 (709357) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048171)

I just had my first "damn I wish they had this when I was in grade school" moment. Next there will be a you spoiled kids don't know how to work for your knowlege moment.

Re:Survival of the fitest (1)

Coleon (946269) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048505)

Like Eddie Vedder would say: "It's Evolution BABY!!!"

Darwin would be proud

Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (5, Informative)

yurik (160101) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047815)

Wikimedia Foundation already has a project called WikiSpecies -- http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikimedia.org] . Not sure how different that project will be.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19047855)

Excellent - we get a head-to-head competition between Webs 1.0 and 2.0. We'll see who finishes first.

in EOL, not just anybody can edit it (4, Insightful)

sethawoolley (1005201) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047863)

Wikipedia is great and all, but its stated intent to not validate its data (unlike Citizendium, for example) means it has a limited usefulness.

thanks for metamoderators... (5, Insightful)

sethawoolley (1005201) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048607)

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.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (5, Informative)

Easy2RememberNick (179395) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047867)

...and also this http://www.tolweb.org/tree/ [tolweb.org]

Dopey home page (1)

SimonInOz (579741) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047957)

This page will need a beowolf cluster of web servers! It has a single huge image as the front page.

Ah well, it won't stay up for long ....

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (4, Funny)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047975)

May the fittest survive!

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048027)

Speaking of, I believe the number of African elephants has tripled in the past six months.

FAQ on Wikipedia (4, Interesting)

Nymz (905908) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047951)

From the EOL FAQ

6. What about Wikipedia?
Wikipedia inspired us. Wikipedia accumulated about 1.5 million entries in English in its first four years. That gave us confidence that our tasks are manageable with current technology and social behaviour, although the expert community in a lot of the subjects for pages in Encyclopedia of Life may be only a handful of people. Wikipedia has also created some species pages, as have other groups. Encyclopedia of Life will, we hope, unite all such efforts and increase their value. The Wikimedia Foundation is a member of the Encyclopedia's Institutional Council.

From the article

"I dream that in a few years wherever a reference to a species occurs on the Internet, there will be a hyperlink to its page in the Encyclopedia of Life," concluded Edwards.

I suppose anyone could try and duplicate any current effort, like a search engine, browser, video site, political site, movie site, music site, and then hope that with enough money and lawyers behind it to gain a large portion of the market.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (4, Informative)

femto (459605) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048081)

It's interesting to read this FAQ [eol.org] from the Encyclopedia of Life:

6. What about Wikipedia?

Wikipedia inspired us. Wikipedia accumulated about 1.5 million entries in English in its first four years. That gave us confidence that our tasks are manageable with current technology and social behaviour, although the expert community in a lot of the subjects for pages in Encyclopedia of Life may be only a handful of people. Wikipedia has also created some species pages, as have other groups. Encyclopedia of Life will, we hope, unite all such efforts and increase their value. The Wikimedia Foundation is a member of the Encyclopedia's Institutional Council.

They don't mention WikiSpecies directly, but would have to be aware of it with the Wikimedia Foundation on board. It will be interesting to see what license will the EoL be using and will it be WikiSpecies (GNUFDL) compatible? Hopefully the Wikimedia Foundation will give some good advice.

Given that a stated aim of the EoL is to get lots of people involved and be a cooperative effort, a copyleft license might promote cooperation. Perhaps it would be worth a few Slashdotters politely contacting the EoL [eol.org] and suggesting that copyleft would be a good thing for the EoL?

Check out the sample pages (4, Informative)

Bob54321 (911744) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048109)

I had a look at a couple of the page mock-ups on the site. The information seems organized in a much better way than on the Wiki-species page. If the actual site turns out to be as good as the examples I will use it frequently.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (1)

Anthony (4077) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048131)

FYI, Wikimedia are one of the EOL partners [eol.org]

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (5, Funny)

Tatarize (682683) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048281)

In theory, the Wikipedia version will constantly have "Bigfoot" added over and over again whereas the other one will not.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (2, Funny)

vux984 (928602) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048715)

The elephant population will be a lot more dynamic too on the wikipiedia one.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (1)

owlnation (858981) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049225)

Well, after all, sightings of Bigfoot have tripled in the past six months.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (1)

Soiden (1029534) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048579)

I find 2 main reasons this is different: 1-It's not editable. 2-EOL will feature a lot more media, like images, videos, sounds.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048593)

A virtually structureless collection of rich text pages to represent a huge amount of highly structured, interrelated data? Oh come on. Wikispecies is a deadborn. It doesn't even have a tree view, and by design it cannot.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (1)

ErikThompson (1049896) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048677)

Paid expert editors will be doing the main part of the new site but I'm guessing the content will be under a more restrictive license.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (1)

Rocketship Underpant (804162) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048903)

Heck, Wikipedia itself is well on its way. And it's available in practically every language spoken throughout the world.

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (1)

mykdavies (1369) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049303)

Wikimedia Foundation already has a project called WikiSpecies -- http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikimedia.org] . Not sure how different that project will be.
Based on its performance today, it will get slashdotted more easily.

Interestingly, the EOL "Institutional Council" includes "Wikimedia Foundation Represented by: Erik Moeller (Executive Secretary)"

Re:Isn't it already a part of Wikipedia? (1)

Grenk (1093561) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049739)

There is also EcoPort (www.ecoport.org).

10 years v. Extinction Rate (2, Interesting)

KiLLa_TK (1030038) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047821)

It seems that many species would be extinct by the time they finish this in 10 years. Why not just make it a wiki and then it could be completed in a fraction of the time and perhaps not as many species would be extinct by the time their entry is completed. Or just find a way to do it faster without compromising the integrity of the entries

Re:10 years v. Extinction Rate (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19047877)

Why not just make it a wiki...

Yeah, and watch web pages sprout up featuring rare species like Cowboyus Nealicus, Scuttle Monkey, and the Zonk Toad.

Re:10 years v. Extinction Rate (1)

shotgunefx (239460) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048581)

LOL, My first thought at seeing the headline? "Manbearpig"

Re:10 years v. Extinction Rate (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048657)

ARe the niggers gonna be added. Cause i'd like to add that we love to give it in the ass. We are prison niggers and our main predatory grounds are the prison shower but we will be coming for you at 3am. Can't wait to run a pole in the asshole.

Signed,
The Nigger Species

Re:10 years v. Extinction Rate (1)

Vasco Bardo (931460) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047937)

It seems that many species would be extinct by the time they finish this in 10 years. Why not just make it a wiki and then it could be completed in a fraction of the time and perhaps not as many species would be extinct by the time their entry is completed. Or just find a way to do it faster without compromising the integrity of the entries.
I thought the problem would be with fact that the species were extinct in 10 years. Apparently the bigger problem is the integrity of the entries.

Re:10 years v. Extinction Rate (1)

KiLLa_TK (1030038) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048099)

I think the 10 year timetable is a problem. A wiki would fix that but most likely compromise the integrity of the entires. Sorry for not clarifying that enough. Is there another solution out there that is able to get the best of both?

Re:10 years v. Extinction Rate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048123)

A particular species going extinct is *not* inherently bad. It happens all the time as conditions change across the world. Totally natural. OK, so it is happening a little (ok, a lot) more then usual now. Still isn't inherently bad - even mass extinctions happen on a regular basis, and end up with more highly evolved species in the end.

I'm never going to go see the millions of species of bugs in the rainforest. 99% of the population won't. The closest the *vast* majority of us are going to get is television, ever. And so yes, from any real benefit to most of humanity the real benefit is in a catalog and complete documentation and study more then the continued existence of the species. And you can bet that if there is some "cancer curing beetle" or something out there and we find it, it won't go extinct. Not if you can patent it, or the drug from it.

Now if we have full ecosystems failing we might be in some short-term trouble. But even then I think the best course of action is probably to find out *exactly* what we need to have an entirely self-contained ecosystem. Then if the worst happens we aren't totally fucked until the planet fixes itself.

Re:10 years v. Extinction Rate (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048755)

A particular species going extinct is *not* inherently bad. It happens all the time as conditions change across the world. Totally natural. OK, so it is happening a little (ok, a lot) more then usual now. Still isn't inherently bad - even mass extinctions happen on a regular basis, and end up with more highly evolved species in the end.

Ok. So, if your species goes extinct, it's not a bad thing. Right?

Oh, wait... you don't want to die? You want your offspring and family to survive? Well, I have a news-flash for you: The individuals that make up other species that have even moderately similar neural systems want the same things, certainly at the immediate family level. They just can't articulate it. They can, and do, demonstrate it in the care they show for their young. It is a bad thing when a species goes extinct. Start your reasoning with your own family and realize you're just another species, and you'll be able to climb out of that anthropocentric pit you've dug for yourself.

Re:10 years v. Extinction Rate (1)

jasonwc (939262) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048829)

The fact that you or I might want to survive, and want the same for our offspring and family doesn't make it an objectively "good" thing. Good is defined by reference to the actor doing the valuation. Since humans are the actors in this case, it makes sense that they would define their survival as "good", while not giving the same weight to the survival of other species. If we looked to the good of the ecosystem for example, the extinction of the human race might serve to allow for greater bio-diversity and it certainly would slow the destruction of the environment. The extinction of a particular species may not be particularly relevant to the our lives, as humans, and it also may not have a harmful effect on the environment. There is no objective good to the continued existence of any species, including humans.

Good idea (1)

ls -la (937805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047839)

It seems like a good idea overall, I hope the funding continues.

But hasn't The Guide already said it in two words? (5, Funny)

Lawn Jocke (1064716) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047849)

Mostly Harmless

To Serve Man (5, Funny)

pchan- (118053) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048403)

I hope they don't forget to include a field describing how delicious each life-form is (and perhaps how it is best served).

Re:To Serve Man (5, Funny)

LordCrank (74800) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048471)

Hopefully they'll start with homo sapiens, I know a few people who have been dying for a new recipe

Re:To Serve Man; tastes like chicken? (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048717)

I hope they don't forget to include a field describing how delicious each life-form is...

I predict many will taste like chicken (including us). :-P

Re:To Serve Man (1)

Capybara (70415) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048787)

It's there. Go to the site and navigate to the demonstration polar bear page. In the "biodiversity heritage library" page, a scan of an old book is included, which says,

  "We killed several with our musquets, and the seamen ate of their flesh, though exceeding coarse."

Re:To Serve Man (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049429)

the seamen ate of their flesh, though exceeding coarse
But what was the bearmeat like?

Re:To Serve Man (1)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048935)

It's already begun: this is how you prepare a kiwi [shifted.ca] .

Personally, I only eat the insides.

Internet pages (4, Funny)

Yath (6378) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047881)

From the press release:

Over the next 10 years, the Encyclopedia of Life will create Internet pages for all 1.8 million species currently named.


These Internet pages, are they something I'd need an Internet browser to enjoy?

Re:Internet pages (1)

Vasco Bardo (931460) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047969)

Unless they get all tangled up of course. My staff will send you a new Internet in that case.

Re:Internet pages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19047991)

I think Internet pages is a methodist coloring book. Got a box of 2^32 crayolas? Don't color outside the lines, or god will send you to hell.

tcp/http (1)

Wikipedia (928774) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048483)

it's a new kind of protocol that sticks with tim robbins original vision for the web. Pages will be built with tcp/ip rather than http.

DRM requirements (1)

Nymz (905908) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048493)

These Internet pages, are they something I'd need an Internet browser to enjoy?

Yes, you may only read these pages while connected to the internet.

Other examples:
Single player games that require an internet connection to install or run. (Value Steam)
Operating systems that require an internet connection to activate or validate genuineness. (Microsoft Windows)
Music that requires an internet connection before authorizing a computer, up to 5 limit. (Apple Itunes)

Re:Internet pages (-1, Redundant)

Jessta (666101) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048663)

I didn't even know there were internet pages.
I'll have to get one of these 'internet browsers' and have a look at them.
Coud anyone tell me where I can get an internet browser?

What About... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19047891)

the tree of life project: http://tolweb.org/tree/phylogeny.html [tolweb.org]

Will they include human-weasel hybrids? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19047901)

For example, billg, Radio Shack salespeople, and neo-cons.

So... (0, Offtopic)

ls -la (937805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19047931)

How long until some nerd stops writing the URL at the eol?

Heh... (4, Funny)

Nick_13ro (1099641) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048003)

Call me when they have added Big Foot footage. Until then watching Bush on TV will be enough zoo time for me.

Always great to see good iniciatives (1)

Coleon (946269) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048013)

It's always great to see iniciatives like this one.
I think that this one could be a lot better because of the people and partners who are involved.

Anyways there are always room for good pages like these two, so now we only have to collaborate and spread the word.

Site Extinction (1, Insightful)

Bob54321 (911744) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048063)

With that massive jpg on the site, it won't be long until the site becomes extinct.

Re:Site Extinction (1)

hdparm (575302) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049077)

Maybe not but by the time it finally loads up, it will become totally irrelevant. All the species will be gone.

'Species'? (1)

Esteban (54212) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048085)

Oy. I guess I can see some kind of value to the project, but the notion of species that we get/got in HS is not very closely related to the ones folks currently work with. I suspect that, at best, this will "be a vital tool for ... [grade school] educators [and desperate students] across the globe."

It looks like smart folks are behind this, but it is strongly reminiscent of Gore's proposal to have NASA prioritize the project of making live satellite photos of the planet available 24/7. Sure, it'd be cool, but...

Already being done (3, Informative)

jaiagreen (1099645) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048103)

Discoverlife.org has been doing something very similar for several years and claim to have cataloged over a million species.

Ohh, amature sightings? I can't wait (1)

robbak (775424) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048117)

I'm going to list my sightings of, let's see, that's an Indian Mynah Acridotheres tristis, and a household rat rattus rattus. Oh, and there's a dog next door, and we have a cat.
Here's to participating in important research!

Re:Ohh, amature sightings? I can't wait (1)

KokorHekkus (986906) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048511)

Let me be the first to congratulate you to your personal ultimate contribution to research! But how empty will your life not be when you have past your prime. ;-)

Jokes aside, maybe not everyone realises that in some areas amateurs can actually make useful scientific contributions, especially when it comes to field work. I'm guessing that the ones that have the best chanes of doing something useful are amateur botanists and entymolgists. Other examples might be ornithologists and herpetologists.

So what use could these sigthings serve? To find and map unknown habitats of waning species, mapping habitat migrations of both pests and non-pests, perhaps even to discover a new species (most likely for entymologists but still a cool thing).

But... (5, Funny)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048137)

I wonder if creationists in the future might later claim that the website didn't take 10 years to compile, but was created in a day...

Re:But... (1)

BuR4N (512430) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049231)

No they will claim it was already there for us to discovered, sort of a background story to a moive franchise :)

Web 2.0 (4, Funny)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048143)

And for the web 2.0 version, I'll make a mash-up between that and hotornot.com where the user can rate the animal on perceived taste from "Yuck" to "Let's farm these suckers" to "Will all be eaten before domestication".

Storytime (5, Insightful)

zombie_striptease (966467) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Storytime (2, Funny)

poor_boi (548340) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048509)

I, for one, welcome our new giant blue legged asphalt sucking grasshopper overlords.

Re:Storytime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048563)

Wasps lay eggs in insects, altering their behavior and growth to suite the wasp's needs. This grasshopper was probably large, discolored, and slow because it was about to burst with wasp puppies.

Re:Storytime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048789)

Not quite the comment I wanted to read while eating breakfast. /shudder

Flip out your camera (2, Insightful)

Jeppe Salvesen (101622) | more than 7 years ago | (#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!!)

Re:Flip out your camera (1)

zombie_striptease (966467) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048691)

I'm afraid I didn't have a working camera at the time I spotted it, though I've been kicking myself since for not trying to borrow someone else's. I'd not seen anything like it before, and haven't seen any since, so it could have been a one-off mutation that didn't survive or a stowaway from another region (seems likelier since there are various blue-legged grasshoppers in the midwest, though the rest of the coloring, size, and markings were still strange). Still, I'll be sure to make some sort of documentation if I ever see an odd critter again.

Re:Storytime (3, Interesting)

ibentmywookie (819547) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048781)

Would be really cool if you could upload a photo of the insect/animal, and have the website find matches. Not sure how far research has come with finding similar images. It would have to try and determine the part of interest, and then search on colours, shapes, etc... not sure. But it would be a very interesting research project.

Re:Storytime (2, Informative)

femto (459605) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048815)

Except the Encyclopedia of Life will be a catalogue, not an identification key.

A catalogue simply records that a species exists and is usually organised by scientific name. You can't find something unless you know its full name, or are prepared to flick through and compare your find with 1.8 million entries.

An identification key on the other hand is organised to answer the question "What is that?", a bit like trying to guess what animal someone is thinking of by asking them questions. A key allows you to specify an increasing list of characteristics and answers with a decreasing list of possible species. Here's an example key [ex.ac.uk] for a small number of bugs.

Star's end? (1)

palemantle (1007299) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048179)

And then 50 years down the line, Encyclopedists will be removed in a bloodless coup and we'll all be told that the Encyclopedia project has always been a fraud. Now where the bleep is this Star's end?

Re:Star's end? (1)

glittalogik (837604) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048473)

*lol* +1 Oldskool

Ahh.. (1)

inf0rmer (545195) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048215)

All your genomes are belong to us...

Earth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048253)

Let me get this straight. They are going to document Earth species on... wait for it... the Earth?

Museum Collections (2, Insightful)

BayaWeaver (1048744) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

why so long? (4, Funny)

misanthrope101 (253915) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048273)

...the project is expected to take about 10 years to complete...
What's the holdup? It only took Noah a few days to get them all on a boat, and we can't even make a list? This is really making us look bad, people. He even had to figure out care and feeding, but we can't even get a list of names together. Sheesh. We're really going downhill here.

Re:why so long? (1)

Tree131 (643930) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048337)

The species weren't as diverse back then, and many weren't discovered.
Besides, they weren't crossbreeding chihuahuas with wiener dogs back then... :P

Poor choice of acronym? (4, Funny)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048317)

Anybody who's ever worked in sales or IT is going to be understandably agitated by their choice of acronym [wikipedia.org] for the project, especially considering the subject matter [wikipedia.org] at hand.

Google (2, Insightful)

Tree131 (643930) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048355)

I wouldn't be surprised if Google got behind the funding and made it super-searchable... :)

But will there be a mail order catalog? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048363)

2 bears and a gazelle please, standard shipping though, I'm not in a rush.

At last, a self-limiting database! (5, Funny)

ydra2 (821713) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048543)

A database that will get smaller over time instead of always growing out of it's disk space! Do your part to help by killing everything you don't recognize as a member of your family.

-- ydra

Re:At last, a self-limiting database! (1)

ydra2 (821713) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048571)

I guess I should have said "That was a joke!" Please don't kill anything except cockroaches. Cockroaches don't need help surviving humans, but most other life forms do. -- ydra

Cool (1)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048551)

Very cool.

(simple)

vs Wikipedia (1)

gondwannabe (1028488) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048595)

Interesting to compare the sample EOL page for Rice and the existing entry for Rice in Wikipedia. Not only does the existing Wikipedia entry already have the same public domain image attached but it is (to this layman) more authoritative, more detailed and even better written when compared to the wooden 'encarta-style' prose in EOL.

Wikipedia foundation is a sponsor, of sorts, so hopefully EOL will benefit from the association, but I see this as a kind of showdown between the power of benign anarachy vs traditional academic processes. I this EOL will struggle to do a well as Wikipedia, but I'm pretty biased.

In any case, it's a noble (if not Nobel) ambition.

Oh ho, a Lawsuit waiting to happen. (1)

Shinra (1057198) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048615)

Just wait until Nintendo sues for Copyright Infringement on their own efforts in
An Encyclopedia, cataloging all known species of life - The PokéDex.

Yes, I went there.

meh, 'All Species' anyone? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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.
         

A wiki? (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 7 years ago | (#19048713)

Should've used a boat instead.

Relevant talks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19048729)

E. O. Wilson got the TED 2007 prize for this purpose.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/83 [ted.com]

will they censor sensitive information? (1)

Adult film producer (866485) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049051)

In regards to national security, there are several plants that may fall under the purview of several federal agencies (ATF, Office of Homeland Security, etc.) This plants may include cannabis sativa/indica, poppy, castor beans. I'm not convinced the group building this database will defy their politcial masters in Washington, D.C. But maybe they will surprise me.

Asimov had it nailed.. (1)

Puchku (615680) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049093)

Who else here thought of the Foundation Series, and the Encyclopaedia Galactica when you read this?

Foot dragging helps (1)

Frantactical Fruke (226841) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049155)

At present extinction rates, the longer you delay, the less work you'll need to do. I wish I had a job like that!

The fallacy of genome retrieval? (0, Flamebait)

Rmorph (692035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049169)

I knew before I read the headline that genomes would pop into the equation. Sigh.

Lets say we do manage to record the genome of every single remaining organism on earth within the next ten years. Does anyone else see the rather alarming side effect that we will then find another excuse to push even more species towards the brink? Like hunters needed excuses before, but now WE'VE GOT THE GENOME!
We can wipe it out and bring it back to wipe it out again!

It seems like theres a whimsical notion that, given enough time and tech (50 years?) the human race will be able to recreate any creature from its original DNA - the "Jurasssic Park effect".

Never mind the needs of Biodiversity and strongest is fittest, never mind recreating scarce habititats, implanting hereditary memories, reorganising food chains.
The genome promises so many things... including reincarnation from beyond the brink.

"Just whip me up a batch of White Rhinos outta the freezer there Bob!"
"Where'll we put em later?"
"Who cares - we can make as many as we like!"

Salvaging the genome of a species is NOT saving that species from extinction. It's putting it in a scientific museum for our children to gaze at.

IMHO: Put this money into protecting habitats. Not recording their demise.

Flame me. Save the Rhino.

fight!!! (1)

Rulke (629278) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049203)

Will it have a "fight" option so i can see which species is strongest? also, will extinct species be featured? (yeah, could probably find out on the projects site.. but someone slashdotted it :P)

Wheee (2, Funny)

durin (72931) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049437)

Perhaps we'll discover intelligent life on earth at long last.

Tell me When... (2, Funny)

craagz (965952) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049537)

There is an entry for FireFox.. that Red Orange plumed animal that is famouss for its nightly browsings and daylight spankng of IE

Why Pakistan? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19049661)

I wonder why the image on the front page of eol.org has been centered over Pakistan.

EOL? (1)

HaydnH (877214) | more than 7 years ago | (#19049801)

How ironic that the "Encylopedia of Life" have chosen the acronym for "End of Life" [acronymfinder.com] as the URL!
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