Tag Archives: Science

Wikipedia and Ecology

Journal Watch Online reports on a recent TREE paper Callis et al Improving Wikipedia: educational opportunity and professional responsibility (DOI:10.1016/j.tree.2009.01.003 ) in Open Source Ecology

A University of Florida professor directed those energies towards a more noble cause: surveying and improving Wikipedia entries on ecological topics. The graduate students, enrolled in a seminar on plant-animal interactions, found the entries on frugivory, herbivory, pollination, granivory and seed dispersal to be lacking in breadth, and sometimes sidetracked by irrelevant topics (they were especially piqued by a long discourse about fruitarians – humans who choose a fruit diet — in the frugivory entry).

In Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the class reports that, although occasionally frustrated by other authors determined to repeatedly delete their changes, improving the entries was a valuable educational experience not too much different than writing a term paper.

They argue that updating Wikipedia, an increasingly influential public information source, is among the civic duties of scientists and should be an activity incorporated into student coursework, professional meetings, and even the peer-review publication process

Reflections on Obama and Science

Dennis Overbye writes in the New York Times essay Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy

To be honest, the restoration of science was the least of it, but when Barack Obama proclaimed during his Inaugural Address that he would “restore science to its rightful place,” you could feel a dark cloud lifting like a sigh from the shoulders of the scientific community in this country. …

Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth.

That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view. These are the unabashedly pragmatic working principles that guide the buzzing, testing, poking, probing, argumentative, gossiping, gadgety, joking, dreaming and tendentious cloud of activity — the writer and biologist Lewis Thomas once likened it to an anthill — that is slowly and thoroughly penetrating every nook and cranny of the world.

Nobody appeared in a cloud of smoke and taught scientists these virtues. This behavior simply evolved because it worked.

It requires no metaphysical commitment to a God or any conception of human origin or nature to join in this game, just the hypothesis that nature can be interrogated and that nature is the final arbiter. …

And indeed there is no leader, no grand plan, for this hive. It is in many ways utopian anarchy, a virtual community that lives as much on the Internet and in airport coffee shops as in any one place or time. Or at least it is as utopian as any community largely dependent on government and corporate financing can be.

Arguably science is the most successful human activity of all time. Which is not to say that life within it is always utopian, as several of my colleagues have pointed out in articles about pharmaceutical industry payments to medical researchers.