Details to come.
  • pros
  • cons
  • costs of ignoring

Meanwhile some from posts taxacom that deal with some issues....
Dear All:

I do not think that most fully understand the pros and cons of Wikipedia (and I will not claim to do so either). However, what I have discovered is that use of Wikipedia is unstoppable, growing, growing in influence, and highly influential. In view of this I paid more attention after first ignoring it or dismissing it.

Notably it keeps popping up when doing Google or other searches, more so that Wikispecies. Secondly, I was annoyed by misinformation on some topics, or unbalanced (or blatantly biased) treatments. So, I investigated further and discovered how to edit, check histories, undo edits, redirect, and to create new entries and links (there is much more that I do not know how to do).

After initially learning these fundamentals, I went in and changed things by correcting them or writing them in clearer language, deleting misinformation and photographs and creating some pages.

What I discovered after that came as a shock (both good and bad). Firstly, I noticed that if I created a new page on a taxonomic topic, it was found by web browsers in a matter of days (1-2-3) and quickly became the number one hit on Google searches. It took only 1 week in most cases, but in some cases it took several weeks. Nonetheless each rose to the top. The web browsers, in particular Google must be being fed the info or search it daily. Secondly, for some topics of interest to other web sites (particularly medical sites) - those web creators (because of the public nature of Wikipedia) lifted information directly from Wikipedia (word for word) sometimes attributing it to Wikipedia, e.g. and and and etc., sometimes not. Nothing put there remains "yours". In some cases this is useful if your desire is to influence what information people will read and use if it matters not if they credit you. The ripple effect (or cascading effect) is tremendous. Additionally, it can be used to counter misinformation by drowning it out. As the saying goes, "if you can't beat them, join them." In some cases the power of such a medium must be used because none of us can actually stop it. This does influence web counts so beware of that source of information as well! They get picked up by things like,,, etc. Each is a web hit if that is all you count. It is insidious at times.

The other downsides are many. Naturally if I can edit things, so can others, and for better or worse they do, and do so regularly and repeatedly, especially on popular sites. Misinformation, vandalism, and even entire deletes happen all the time. Additionally, correcting some changes means "accepting" what was there already (even if incorrect but you did not spot it). Each site can be monitored, but only if you choose to do so, and the number of reliable monitors for each site is unknown. Contributors can have "Watch Lists" where they are alerted to changes in their favourite sites. The changes can be undone, but vandalism is rampant and ranges from childish "E.M. is a fink" to cleverly disguised as possibly true (false references, technical gibberish that looks real). Vandals also make changes in tandem repeats, first one change, then another a second later. Undoing the last only leads to accepting the earlier vandalism. Checking "Histories" is a way to see if the version you are viewing is more or less stable and authoritative. Most users will not do this. Most vandalism is on popular sites, rather than highly technical sites, but enthusiastic amateurs sometimes add misinformation or photographs for good intentions, but which undermine correct information.

And so on.. then there is the question of who is "responsible" for a page when so many have contributed? As I noted, many pros and many cons, but it is unstoppable. Then, stop and think about all those links I mentioned - what if they are copying misinformation (or vandalism) instead of good information?


Scott A. Redhead, Ph.D.

-----Original Message-----

>As for Roderic's comment:
>Wikipedia: The taxonomic community seems
>somehow afraid of them, yet I suggest this is not based on much more
>than folklore.
>Let me give a real example of this "folklore"
>The wikipedia has an entry for "Hoverfly" [European common name for
>family Syrphidae, Order Diptera; known in North America as flower flies]
>They include a picture of a species identified as "Melangyna
>viridiceps," an endemic Australian species. Unfortunately, the picture
>is of Simosyrphus grandicornis. In the references, there is a link to
>CSIRO photo gallery where there is a picture of the real Melangyna

It's simple enough, then, Chris. Just edit the page. It took me a
grand total of about 10 minutes to get the whole mess straightened
out. If we, as taxonomists, refuse to contribute to efforts such as
Wikipedia by investing a little of our time when we encounter a
problem such as this, then we have no right to complain.


Authority & Reliability

As for Roderic's comment:

Wikipedia: The taxonomic community seems
somehow afraid of them, yet I suggest this is not based on much more
than folklore.

Let me give a real example of this "folklore"

The wikipedia has an entry for "Hoverfly" [European common name for
family Syrphidae, Order Diptera; known in North America as flower flies]

They include a picture of a species identified as "Melangyna
viridiceps," an endemic Australian species. Unfortunately, the picture
is of Simosyrphus grandicornis. In the references, there is a link to
CSIRO photo gallery where there is a picture of the real Melangyna

Now that the wikipedia has associated the scientific name of hoverfly
with Melangyna viridiceps, one can google that scientific name. And one
discovered there are numerous pictures now on the web identified as this
species. Google generates some 1,130 hits and we find

The species now "occurs" in Europe in Dave's Garden but is really Eupeodes

The species now "occurs" in New World, here is Toxomerus species

And here is Syrphus sp. Listed as Melangyna viridiceps and a species of
Eristalis (but at least this has "I think" as a modifier)

Here is Scaeva pyrastri as Melangyna viridiceps

I could go on, and one afternoon I did. And about two-third of all the
unique images on the web as Melangyna viridiceps are mis-identification
simply because of an error in Wikipedia of associating that name with
the common name hoverfly.

That is REAL folklore, Rod.

Smile :)

F. Christian Thompson

Quality, Searching & public Access

I just received a private communication asking this question. I think
the answer, at least, can be said in public, and I can be fairly

Let's face reality - whatever organism one considers, the number one
link people will get in Google is pretty much going to be the
Wikipedia link (as long as the organism is listed in Wikipedia). Now,
and even more so in the future. Whatever other resources we may
develop on our own, or as a community, I rather suspect Wikipedia
will ALWAYS come out as the first link. As such, I do a greater
public service by working to ensure that Wikipedia contains accurate
information, since more people in the public will see it. I get
dozens of questions a month regarding Jerusalem Crickets and
Solpugids, for example, and it was suggested that I make web pages
about them for our museum's website. I countered that since our
webpages would rarely be visited, while Wikipedia's respective
entries were both the top hits in Google, why waste my time and our
resources to reinvent the wheel when I could simply keep an eye on
the Wikipedia pages and direct people there? It also takes LESS of my
time to help maintain a Wikipedia entry than it does to WRITE one
myself and maintain it.

The standard horror story about Wikipedia is that since anyone can
edit it, that it's full of nonsense edits, falsehoods, urban legends,
and so forth - that vandals, ignoramuses, and fools determine the
content. First off, it isn't true in general, and the "trouble spots"
are not evenly distributed across all segments of Wikipedia
(biological articles seem to have relatively few problems). Things
that aren't legitimate get deleted as fast as they're spotted, which
is generally pretty fast. Other disputes tend to be over matters of
opinion, which Wikipedia policy is structured to avoid (two of the
most important rules are "Neutral Point of View" and "NO Original
Research"). Yes, Wikipedia has rules, and people who break them get
banned all the time - it is not a free-for-all. It operates more like
a ratchet - articles tend to improve steadily over time, but do not
go DOWN in quality over time. Generally, the more editors, the better
the article becomes over time, not worse. I've created hundreds of
articles now (not so many any more), and very very few of them have
not improved since I created them, even if I never personally touched
them again. So, if someone tells you that any effort you expend on
Wikipedia will be UNDONE or corrupted by those who follow you, DON'T
believe it.

It is not a waste of time.


Doug Yanega

-- GarryJolleyRogers - 30 Jul 2008