Saturday, December 13, 2008

EOL hyperbole

The latest post on the EOL blog (Biodiversity in a rapidly changing world) really, really annoys me. It claims that

The case of the red lionfish exemplfies how EOL can provide information for science-based decision making. Red lionfish are native to coral reef ecosystems in the Indo-Pacific. Yet, probably due to human release of the fish from aquariums, a large population has found itself in the waters near the Bahamas.

Nope, I suggest it demonstrates just how limited EOL is. If I view the page for the red lionfish I get an out of date map from GBIF that shows a very limited distribution, and doesn't show the introductions in Florida and the Bahamas (I have to wade through text to find reference to the Florida introduction, and the page doesn't mention the Bahamas!). The blog entry states that
In this senerio[sic], EOL and its data partners provide up to date information about the lionfish, or pterois[sic] volitans, in a species page.

Well, the GBIF map is old (a more recent map is available from GBIF itself), the bibliography omits key references such as "Biological invasion of the Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans along the Atlantic coast of North America" (useful reading for a "science-based decision", one would think). Most of this information I got from Wikipedia, GBIF, and Google Scholar via an iSpecies search.

In other words, EOL in it's present state is serving limited, out of date information. The gap between hype and delivery shows no sign of narrowing. How can this help "science-based decision making"? Surely there will come a point when people will tire of breathless statements about how EOL will be useful, and they will start to ask "where's the beef?"


Anonymous said...

Dear Rod,
Thank you for your comments on the recent EOL blog post. When I was writing the post, I was envisioning how in the future EOL might be able to provide up to date information. I did not intend to imply that the red lionfish species page, in its current state, would be a useful tool for policy makers. Somehow my thoughts about the future were not communicated well in my writing.
I appreciate your taking the time to comment. I went back and update the blog post, if you would care to take a look at it. You mentioned that you felt that the BHL bibliography was lacking. You suggested adding” e bibliography omits key references such as "Biological invasion of the Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans along the Atlantic coast of North America" If you would like, I can put you in contact with the Director of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which is also EOL’s Scanning and Digitization group.

We are working very hard and it is nice to have a watchdog to remind us that our visions of EOL are not what are presently being viewed by the public. It is also nice to know that people are reading the blog and care enough to give feedback.

Best regards,
Tracy Barbaro
EOL Education and Outreach Project Coordinator

Rod Page said...

Dear Tracey,

In a project such as EOL I think underpromising and overdelivering is the best strategy, otherwise it may become the victim of it's own hype. I long for the day I visit an EOL page and learn something new, or see something unexpected.

Regarding BHL, the recent literature is outside their remit (and much of it is under copyright, hence not available to them anyway), so they won't be able to help. BHL is a great project, but to rely on them as the primary source of scientific literature for EOL makes EOL look incredibly dated. EOL needs mechanisms for having links to the latest literature on each species.

I guess I would also argue that your suggestion that I get in touch with the Director of BHL illustrates a fundamental problem of EOL compared with, say, Wikipedia. In the later case, I can simply add the missing references myself. Until EOL adopts a model like this, my own view is that it will flounder.

I've said much of this before (e.g., and ). I guess I find the rate of progress EOL is making to be painfully slow, and I feel that much of this is not because the task is difficult, but because EOL is making it harder than it needs to be.