The Digital Encyclopedia of Life

In 2003, the Har­vard biol­o­gist E.O. Wil­son wrote a wide­ly read essay that called for an “Ency­clo­pe­dia of Life.” Summed up sim­ply, Wil­son had in mind “an online ref­er­ence source and data­base” that cat­a­logued “every one of the 1.8 mil­lion species that are named and known on this plan­et,” not to men­tion the many organ­isms that aren’t yet known. When ful­ly com­piled, the web-based data­base would offer a “macro­scope” of sorts, a way to do com­par­a­tive biol­o­gy and ecol­o­gy on an unprece­dent­ed scale, allow­ing sci­en­tists to gain new insights into the immense bio­di­ver­si­ty of our plan­et.

Wil­son is still push­ing this vision, and he laid it out most recent­ly at the TED Talks con­fer­ence in Mon­terey, Cal­i­for­nia. (Watch the video below.) The envi­sioned ency­clo­pe­dia will be a col­lab­o­ra­tive enter­prise, mod­eled some­what along the lines of Wikipedia (see some demon­stra­tion pages here). And it’ll be acces­si­ble any­where, any­time, to who­ev­er could ben­e­fit from it. It’s expect­ed to take close to a decade to com­plete the project, although some key com­po­nents of the data­base will be avail­able in 2008. (See this FAQ for more details.)

For more infor­ma­tion on E.O. Wil­son, I would encour­age you to lis­ten to Bill Moy­ers’ pro­file of Wil­son (iTunesFeedMP3) which recent­ly aired on PBS. You may also want to give some atten­tion to Wilson’s lat­est book, The Cre­ation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth.

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