Using Wikipedia and Wikispecies

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Wikipedia is intended to be an open-edit and dynamic encyclopedia of all human knowledge. One of the main limitations of a traditional encyclopedia is that it becomes outdated very quickly, and it is not possible to keep it updated with new developments. So, the basic idea of Wikipedia is to keep articles updated with new developments, as they are published, by giving anybody, anywhere in the world, the opportunity to add the new information from the published sources. Quality control is hoped to be achieved by "consensus", and the ability to block editors who break the rules of verifiability and neutrality. The Wikipedia model works best for simple, "fact-based" topics, but not so well for complex and/or philosophical topics. Some of the rules are expressed in rather vague terms, and rely on good-faith, commonsense enforcement. Such reliance inevitably leads to the possibility of abuse. The most restrictive rule on Wikipedia, when taken too literally, concerns "synthesis". It states that even if you can source both statement A and statement B separately, you cannot combine them using logic to infer statement C, unless you can explicitly source C. For an actual example, the name Leviathan was recently proposed for a genus of fossil whale, but is a junior homonym. Both these facts can be sourced, as can the ICZN rule that junior homonyms must be replaced. But when, on Wikipedia, user Stho002 stated the obvious implication that therefore the name Leviathan, as used for this whale, must be replaced, it was disallowed as this conclusion could not be sourced at that time with an published statement explicitly stating that the name Leviathan, as used for this whale, must be replaced! Soon after this, the name was replaced. Such rules are far too restrictive for serious scientific purposes. Therefore, it is very hard for Wikipedia to progress very far beyond simple scientific facts.

Although Species-ID uses Wikipedia-like software, this is not meant to be a project intended to detract from Wikipedia. Your contributions to the many Wikipedias are most welcome. For example, you are encouraged to upload images directly to Wikimedia Commons - such images are immediately available in Species-ID. Similarly, for any purpose that fits well into the collaboration scheme of a Wikipedia project, using a Wikipedia directly is recommended. Furthermore, by using the same technology and license as Wikipedia, we desire to make it simple to reuse selected content in a Wikipedia project (with proper citation as required by the license).

However, Wikipedias have some limitations which are a necessary result of their open collaboration structure:

  • Wikipedia must police adherence to its scope and to the criterion of general notability. While all species are by definition notable, specialized software, such as programs we are using for identification purposes, may be deleted as lacking notability.
  • Wikipedia tries to improve its quality by requiring independently published source citations for its publication. It is therefore not possible to place original research information there.
  • Most Wikipedias reject information that amount to "data" about a topic such as a species. Being an encyclopedia, data should be abstracted and summarized instead. While this is a good rule for an encyclopedia, it is not always a good rule for projects building up information about biodiversity.
  • For the same same reason, it is impossible to add specimen-specific information in Wikipedias. In Species-ID, adding specimen descriptions either as a chapter on a species page or as separate pages is welcome.


Limitations of Wikispecies

Given the limitations of Wikipedia, a possible assumption is that Wikispecies would fill this gap. It does not.

Wikispecies is an unusual wikimedia project that comes with a large number of limitations. The root of these is the desire to avoid any ambiguity which content belongs into the language-specific wikipedias and which into wikispecies (see Wikispecies Charter). Therefore content is restricted to the language neutral taxonomic hierarchy, a single image per species, and a vernacular names section (in many languages). Specifically, it is not possible to provide species descriptions or identification keys on wikispecies. To quote "What Wikispecies is not": "Wikispecies is not paragraphs of information about species. Blocks of prose are language-specific and would incorrectly lead to the impression that Wikispecies is a fork of Wikipedia."

Wikispecies is currently working quite well as a source of accurate information on current constitution of taxa (e.g. genera in a family), nomenclatural details, and particularly as a taxonomically classified library of literature references and links, but there are no guarantees that this will continue to be the case. It is recommended that anyone seeking such information, perhaps from CoL, EoL, etc., also checks Wikispecies, as there are many hidden errors in the former sites which may be flagged on Wikispecies. As always, any information without any indicated verifiable source should not be relied upon, whether it be from CoL, EoL, Wikipedia, Wikispecies, Species-ID, or wherever. The user needs to develop the skill to be able to judge the reliability of information, based on how the information is presented, and not simply by trust in who presented it ...

The wikispecies identification plans a service for uploading and discussing images of unknown species - not support through descriptions, data, or identification keys.