[Wikipedia-l] species directory

Benedikt Mandl benedikt.mandl at gmx.at
Tue Aug 3 11:11:52 UTC 2004

Dear Wikipedia-I readers!

I am a graduate student of zoology at the University of Cambridge (though
Austrian) and would like to share an idea for an urgent Wikipedia project. I
contacted Jimbo Wales before and approach to you with his clear support for
my idea.

Biologists who classify new species normally publish in specialized esoteric
journals, which has led to an overwhelming amount of information with nobody
keeping an overview. Even experts in very specialized fields often don’t
notice if a species has been formally recorded twice, three times or even
more often. Therefore, it is not known how many species there are known –
and this is just as ridiculous as it sounds. We are not talking about all
species that EXIST on earth - but simply the total number of species that
were already RECORDED in scientific publications. Nobody knows how many
there are. Expert A might think that there are 17 000 annelids known, expert
B believes to know about 20 000. This is because there is no central
registration process and no database or reference directory to browse
information about the current state of knowledge on a particular species. 
This situation can be summarized with two statements:

1.) A central, more extensive database for taxonomy is urgently needed. All
their advantages are demonstrated strikingly by bases like www.wikipedia.org

2.) A central, more extensive database for taxonomy is feasible. Wikipedia
proved the technical feasibility; other existing species directories like
www.fishbase.org or http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/index.html
prove the need for this kind of a database and the willingness of 
volunteers to make the commitment to contribute. 

Based on these key statements, I define two major tasks:

1.) Figure out how the contents of the data base would need to be presented
– by asking experts, potential non-professional users and comparing that
with existing data bases. My part.

2.) Figure out how to do the software, which hardware is required and how to
cover the costs – by asking experts, looking for fellow volunteers and
potential sponsors.

And this is why I really need Wikipedia. I am a zoologist. Animal stuff.
There’s a lot of geeky-ness in me, but of the bug-kind rather then the
tech-kind, and therefore, I need support on this side. Cambridge provides a
pool of knowledge, experts and a good name for great scientific achievements
– and Wikipedia has a big pool of passionate people who believe in the
freedom of information and sharing knowledge. Wikipedia also has the skills
of supporting my plans with the software that is required. The idea of this
project is still very young, although others have tried similar things
before. Alas, nobody has access to know-how and the passion of the WWW
community to the extend that Wikipedia has it and that is required to

Previous work with similar targets

In molecular biology and genetics open databases for genes or proteins are
already very important, only taxonomy, the most internet-related of all
sciences, still lacks the advantages of an online network. Due to that lack,
there are already some databases that tried to establish species
directories. The most important ones are “Integrated Taxonomic Information
System” (www.it is.usda.gov/) focusing on species of North America and its
European equivalent Species 2000 (www.sp2000.org/). Both directories try to
connect other, existing databases to an integrated unit. Furthermore, there
are ambitious commitments by the “ALL Species Foundation”
(http://www.all-species.org/) with much ado about almost nothing, a small
but charming database from the University of Michigan
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/index.html) and other, partly
commercial directories. All these websites have some things in common: They
lack of funding, are mismanaged, created for experts and scientists, limited
to a particular group of species or a region, or face other difficulties. To
put it in a nutshell: There is a need for www.wikispecies.org! 

Please support this idea. I am highly motivated to work on this project. I
hope that a lot of passion for it will develop in others, there is already a
lot in me. Thank you very much in advance. Kind regards,


Benedikt M. Mandl
Department of Zoology
Downing Street 
Cambridge CB2 1ST 
United Kingdom
benedikt.mandl at gmx.at

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