Encyclopedia of Life: Up and Running and Generating Debate

The Encyclopedia of Life, about which I blogged and wrote about in the New York Times, has gone live earlier than previously scheduled. So go check it out. A few people have left comments here, and others are blogging too. I’m very curious to see what hard-core bioinformatics folks think as they take this baby out for a ride. Deepak Singh at business bytes genes molecules has some complaints, and Rod Page has a lot of them. It will take a little time to sort out these comments into the constructive criticisms and the outright dismissals. For example, I’m sure that it wouldn’t take too long for EoL to get a decent search engine. Rod points out that ultimately, every page will be authenticated by an expert. Are there enough experts out there to authenticate 1.8 million species? That was a point that I raised in my article. Taxonomy is not a boom industry. If species were nothing more than bits of DNA, this would be a slam dunk. But real species are DNA and bodies and ecologies and lots more. I would not be surprised that the interests of communities within biology drive a lot of the growth of the encyclopedia. If the kinks are worked out, it could be a tool that a group of people interested in, say, orchids, could use to store and study their data. Seen that way, it wouldn’t have to hit all 1.8 million species pages to achieve something important.

Update: I just discovered that the news of EoL triggered a tidal wave of traffic–11.5 million visitors Tuesday morning! (I hope I played some part in the chaos.) This brings up an important aspect of EoL–it’s not just for scientists. This could potentially be a place where millions of people can learn about cuttlefish, mushrooms, slime molds, and all the rest. That strength should not be forgotten in the discussion of genome access and the like.

Update, Wed. 2/27 8 am: Henk Poley informs us that the EoL web site has reverted to the demo version. Hmm…