Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why we need wikis

I've just spent a frustrating few minutes trying to find a reference in BioStor. The reference in question is
Heller, Edmund 1901. Papers from the Hopkins Stanford Galapagos Expedition, 1898-1899. WIV. Reptiles. Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington 14: 39-98

and comes from the Reptile Database page for the gecko Phyllodactylus gilberti HELLER, 1903. This is primary database for reptile taxonomy, and supplies the Catalogue of Life, which repeats this reference verbatim.
Thing is, this reference doesn't exist! Page 39 of Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington volume 14 is the start of Gerrit S Miller (1901) A new dormouse from Italy. Proc Biol Soc Washington 14: 39-40.
After much fussing with trying diferent volumes and dates for Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington, I searched BHL for Phyllodactylus gilberti, and discovered that this name was published in Proceedings of the Washington Academy of Sciences:
Edmund Heller (1903) Papers from the Hopkins Stanford Galapagos Expedition, 1898-1899. XIV. Reptiles. Proceedings of the Washington Academy of Sciences 5: 39-98

(see http://biostor.org/reference/20322). Three errors (wrong journal, wrong date, minor typo in title), but enough to break the link between a name and the primary source for that name.

Anybody who demands authoritative, expert-vetted resources, and thinks the Catalgoue of Life is a shining example of this needs to think again. Our databases are riddled with errors, which are repackaged over and over again, yet these would be so easy to fix if they were opened up and made easy to edit. It's time to get serious about wikis.