Biodiversity on Wikipedia - the Indian context


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Presentation made at WikiConference India 2011

Describes how a bunch of editors are adding to freely licensed content on Wikipedia

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  • I am retaining the originally proposed title with some minor punctuation. Biodiversity knows no nationality. The moth on this slide is Actias maenas. This individual was found in Mudigere – the pictures on Wikimedia Commons. Researching its identity led me to learn that although it seems to occur in the Western Ghats, there are no published papers saying that it does.
  • A brief introduction to myself as explained by Wikipedia.
  • My knowledge is largely of Johnson’s second kind which makes the “no original research” and “cite reliable sources” [[WP:OR]], [[WP:RS]] very natural.
  • The origins and tenuous persistence of the diversity around us are related to continental drift, immigrations, a long history of conservation and in recent times the tolerance that humans have had for some of the larger animals.
  • Biodiversity means a lot of things to different people.
  • Early efforts at documenting this wealth – pre-date Linnaeus – involved large scale collaboration of western, eastern knowledge and art.
  • Earliest ornithological work – involved large scale distributed networks of information gatherers
  • Museum based syntheses were the norm. Collectors, especially in the colonies, sent specimens to museums in Europe and Britain.
  • Some plates from Lepidoptera Indica. They have all been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. The original scans are now available thanks to the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The few copies in India are damaged and the libraries that hold them do not know its value.
  • Modern works – expensive and gets outdated. Often cater to specific audiences and few attempt to indicate the original sources.
  • Note how all efforts are necessarily incomplete, intrinsically troubled by the short life-spans of people and the inability to continue the effort and to keep things up to date. The economics involved in the production also have a role in making the end product expensive for consumers.
  • The website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests clearly indicates that it is not a consumer site but a site that is merely propagating the ideas of the organization. There are hardly any options to obtain information easily.
  • The Zoological Survey of India, once an active organization has decayed into insignificance. Their in-house journals are full of errors and limited circulation. Species descriptions published here are routinely dismissed in taxonomic syntheses due to their inability to collaborate with researchers around the world. The website has much to be desired but will not improve since they are not in a dialogue with ( potential ) consumers.
  • When requests are made through a legal channel, boilerplate replies are sent. Government organizations not citizen oriented and the control and command position is taken rather than a participatory one.
  • Reasons why biodiversity information is handled well by being on Wikipedia. It is open to contributions from all. It is open most of all to improvement. Philosophically, the environment around us is part of the “commons” and cannot be owned. Structured data and the hope of semantic support in future.
  • Wikipedia also follows some of the principles of biological conservation – the history tab is a way of keeping “every cog and wheel” while the entries are tinkered with.
  • Making the connections with the environment – Biophilia. Increasingly needed as we get isolated and the links in the chain connecting us to the environment become longer and more tenuous.
  • Although biologists have been early to adopt the Internet, they have been rather late in adopting Wikipedia. It is a phenomenon that is extremely hard to understand given that science is about building from blocks, connecting blocks and maintaining the traceability of the blocks and the methods by which those theoretical blocks are verified or developed.
  • Competing as an Encyclopaedia of Life despite not having the limited vision of the EoL. The “professional” scientific community sees publication as a part of their paid work. This is a great divergence from the gentlemanly science era that was begun in the times of Charles Darwin and it really does not need to be so.
  • Ecologists and scientists have had to be reminded of their responsibility to be citizens.
  • Conservation movements are tapping into Wikipedia thanks to the low cost and local way in which information is (potentially) gathered.
  • One of the nice things is that there are not many deletion debates in this area.
  • Even taking just the larger life forms, the coverage and quality still leave much to be wished. But the number of articles is quite large.
  • The articles on species are structured from geographic lists and from taxonomic entries for higher ranks. In some cases there are other linkages.
  • Local observations are often a starting point for creating or developing articles. The activities are not necessarily linear. Research on a topic may precede the addition of illustrations or images.
  • Development can happen in any order but that should not prevent contribution. Digital cameras have made a major impact here.
  • Once identified, literature can be researched and articles can be developed. So although one can ask “whats in a name”, researching a species typically requires the name. Note that we do not as yet have an easy way for the process to be repeated by a naïve search. How does one reach this page, if one has this cockroach before them?
  • There is not much vandalism and articles tend to be quite stable and often languishes until someone comes up with new research. The history flow shows that few edits occur on the article. This is contrary to a claim in some circles that articles get vandalized by some “nobody”.
  • But fauna articles are not without troubles. Often the people who are involved have a single point agendum and these can even be to settle scores with other scientists (these vandals are not “nobodies” or “anybody” [who can edit])
  • Scientists can be bitter.
  • An image that was not identified for long and it was only when User:Invertzoo requested an identification that I attempted to get it determined.
  • Once identified, User:Invertzoo and other editors were able to develop an article using the literature. Contrary to Wikipedia’s deceptive principles, expertise is needed to evaluate sources, identify their reliability and to produce a balance. [[WP:RS]] and [[WP:UNDUE]] require domain expertise.
  • A sample of images added even before they were identified. Some have since been used elsewhere. The stalk-eyed fly was actually determined only recently and the determiner published a paper that settled certain uncertainties. The coverage on plants tends to be poorer.
  • Article developments are often aided by events elsewhere which drive more views – currently spikes are noticed after the fact. A spike detection system could direct the energies of editors particularly in projects towards articles that are currently getting more eyeballs. A recent toolserver project appears to be limited to projects with less than 1000 article.
  • Aiding specialists helps as does accessing their tools .
  • Articles that are well referenced or taken to GA and FA status often become very stable
  • Projects have had a very positive effect. Unfortunately not many projects are actively involved in collaborations.
  • Other initiatives that have aided editors.
  • Copyright-free images from old lithographs scanned by the Biodiversity Heritage Library can be processed to illustrate articles.
  • As of date all plates from Lepidoptera Indica have been processed and added to the Wikimedia Commons.
  • This is a high-resolution photograph of a specimen collected by Charles Thomas Bingham, one of the pioneering lepidopterists in India. This was contributed by Robert Nash, now retired from the Ulster Museum. Most Indian museum curators would not even respond to an email from me. Most Indian organizations lack a policy of non-discrimination.
  • This is a picture of Melanophidium bilineatum, it is the first photograph of it in life after it was described in 1870. Museum curators and scientists rarely contribute images since they are typically aiming to produce a formal publication. There has been no formal publication associated with the (re)discovery of this species (at least not accessible online). This image was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons in 2006.
  • Finally it is important to recognize that information itself is not an end in itself.
  • And its worth reminding ourselves that there are no borders and …
  • … everything is linked.
  • Biodiversity on Wikipedia - the Indian context

    1. 1. “ Indian” Biodiversity Learning through Wikipedia Shyamal 2011
    2. 2.
    3. 3. <ul><li>&quot; Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. When we enquire into any subject, the first thing we have to do is to know what books have treated of it. This leads us to look at catalogues, and at the backs of books in libraries.“ </li></ul><ul><li>— Samuel Johnson </li></ul><ul><li>(Boswell's Life of Johnson ) </li></ul>Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)
    4. 4. Biodiversity richness <ul><li>Tectonic History </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Gondwanaland-KT-Collision-Upheaval </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Waves of immigrations </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Tropical zone – energy, monsoon system </li></ul><ul><li>Conservation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Traditional </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Preservation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Forestry </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Invaluable wealth <ul><li>Food </li></ul><ul><li>Fodder </li></ul><ul><li>Firewood </li></ul><ul><li>Fibre </li></ul><ul><li>Building material </li></ul><ul><li>Raw materials </li></ul><ul><li>Medicine </li></ul><ul><li>Aesthetic </li></ul><ul><li>… . </li></ul><ul><li>And sometimes </li></ul><ul><li>Competing with cultivation (weeds, pests) </li></ul><ul><li>Annoying, spreading disease (vectors) </li></ul>
    6. 6. 1678-1693
    7. 7. Allan Octavian Hume (6 June 1829 - 31 July 1912)
    8. 8.
    9. 9.
    10. 10. http:/ /
    11. 11. Numerous attempts <ul><li>Plants - Hortus Malabaricus ( 1678-1693) </li></ul><ul><li>Birds – Alan Octavian Hume </li></ul><ul><li>Fauna of British India </li></ul><ul><li>Lepidoptera Indica </li></ul><ul><li>Modern works </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Handbook of the Birds of the World </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mammal species of the World (edition 4) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Half-hearted efforts by the Indian government </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Expensive, non sustainable, non-free license </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organizations not citizen/consumer oriented </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Issues of quality, lack of transparency & review </li></ul></ul>
    12. 12.
    13. 13.
    14. 15. Why Wikipedia ? <ul><li>Open to all </li></ul><ul><li>Open to progress – long term </li></ul><ul><li>The environment is “common” heritage </li></ul><ul><li>Free-license promotes long-term survival </li></ul><ul><li>Free-license promotes innovative (re)use </li></ul><ul><li>Holistic and connected – no boundaries </li></ul><ul><li>Traceability – structuring (COinS, templates,…) </li></ul>
    15. 16. Conservation philosophy <ul><li>“ The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, &quot;What good is it?&quot; If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” ― Aldo Leopold </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold </li></ul></ul></ul>
    16. 17. <ul><li>“ One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” </li></ul><ul><li>― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac </li></ul>
    17. 22. Intrinsically Notable No deletion debates ! <ul><li>United Nations publication: UNEP-WCMC (2000). Global Biodiversity: Earth's living resources in the 21st century . Cambridge, World Conservation Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Alfred, J.R.B. (1998) Faunal Diversity in India: An Overview: In Faunal Diversity in India, i-viii], 1-495. (Editors. Alfred, JRB, et al., 1998). ENVIS Centre, Zoological Survey of India, Calcutta. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
    18. 23. Total number of described species 1,750,000 Estimates of unknown species 14,000,000 A drop in the ocean At least 1,50,000 articles in the Indian context Mainly butterflies Group Indian species World total Endemics Plants (vascular) 19000 ? Fungi ? 72000 Protista 2600 32000 Arthropods 68000 987000 Insects 16000 Other inverts. 8400 87100 Fish 2600 22000 Amphibians 300 5200 200 Reptiles 500 5900 200 Birds 1250 9000 70 Mammals 400 4700 40
    19. 24. Structure <ul><li>Fauna of India </li></ul><ul><ul><li>List of birds of India </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>List of … of India </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Species </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Taxonomic hierarchy </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Class – order – family – genus </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Others – ecology, behaviour, history </li></ul>
    20. 25. Local observation Upload photograph Identify Research Create article Improve article Therea petiveriana Polyrhachis gracilior
    21. 26. Image contributions <ul><ul><li>Uploader may or may not identify it </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Indentified / categories </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Found </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Used </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sound/video recordings </li></ul></ul>Upload photograph Identify Research Create article Improve article
    22. 27.
    23. 29. Not without troubles
    24. 31.
    25. 32.
    26. 34. Traffic spikes <ul><li>News coverage </li></ul><ul><li>Discussions on Internet groups </li></ul><ul><li>Spikes detected after the fact </li></ul>Sálim Moizuddin Abdul Ali [saːlɪm əliˑ] (November 12, 1896 – July 27, 1987)
    27. 35. Specialists <ul><li>Aid and encourage experts with resources </li></ul><ul><li>Guide in understanding policy, format and style </li></ul><ul><li>Campus initiatives </li></ul><ul><li>Reverse – make specialist resources available </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Museums, libraries, instruments </li></ul></ul>
    28. 36.
    29. 37. Join Project Collaborations <ul><li>WikiProject Birds </li></ul>
    30. 38. Biodiversity Heritage Library <ul><li>A major initiative to digitize information </li></ul><ul><li>Sadly – no Indian organizations contributing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>libraries, archives, museums, collections </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Internet Archive </li></ul><ul><li>Digital Library of India (low quality scans) </li></ul><ul><li>Open Access Initiatives </li></ul><ul><li>Wikipedia Reference Desk </li></ul>
    31. 41. Specimen from Dublin museum contributed by Robert Nash (User:Notafly) Collected by C T Bingham from Chitral
    32. 42.
    33. 43. Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all. - Arthur C. Clarke
    34. 44.
    35. 46. Thank you <ul><li>Wikimedia Foundation – for the travel grant </li></ul><ul><li>Organizers of WikiConference India 2011 </li></ul><ul><li>Biodiversity Heritage Library, The Internet Archive </li></ul><ul><li>Contributors to the Wikimedia Commons </li></ul><ul><ul><li>J M Garg, V Santharam, Sandilya Theuerkauf, Robert Nash </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Colleagues - both on and off Wikipedia </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dr. Prashanth NS, Col. Ashwin Baindur </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Developers of tools and templates </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Citation template, taxobox, history-flow … </li></ul></ul>