The Encyclopedia of Life (www.eol.org) has a beautiful front page. Once you enter, though, you’re going to be disappointed. For now, the website is a glorified press release with no useful content – unless you’re desperate for information that happens to be covered in one of the 6 demo pages.
It’s Wikipedia page was also created today, and is similarly light on content.
When will the site live up to its name? From their FAQ:
Development of Encyclopedia web pages will begin later this year… we believe that we can produce the full encyclopedia in about 10 years… We expect to have actual, authenticated species pages available by mid 2008.
The number of species threatened with extinction should speed that up a bit. However, the project plans to eventually include extinct species in its coverage. According to the project’s executive director, James Edwards, the Encyclopedia of Life will also include creatures that have been dead for millions of years. His reasoning is simple.
If we don’t include dinosaurs, we’ll have lost 6-year-old boys.
Why is the project getting so much press and reaction in the blogosphere? Apart from the audacious scale of the project, which will make its results publicly available to everyone, it will have a higher degree of authority than sources like Wikipedia. Here is the project’s description of their methodology, also from their FAQ:
Unlike conventional encyclopedias, where an editorial team sits down and writes the entries, the Encyclopedia will be developed by bringing together (“mashing up”) content from a wide variety of sources. This material will then be authenticated by scientists, so that users will have authoritative information.
It is unfortunate that the list of potential contributors to the EOL does not include science publishers. Here is an opportunity for their journals to contribute to a large human enterprise, and they should be encouraged to take part. Perhaps the Public Library of Science can spearhead the effort.
In the meantime, we can refer to another encyclopedia for a philosophical discussion of the concept of species.