Ask a high school senior to form an educated opinion about climate change, and chances are she will go to Google, type in "climate change," and hit enter. Doing so returns more than 60 million results, some fraction of which are authoritative and science-based. The remainder is of poor or unknown veracity.
This illustrates a stark reality of the Web: digital information on the environment is characterized by an abundance of "great piles of content" and a dearth of "piles of great content." In other words, there are many resources for environmental content, but there is no central repository of authoritative information that meets the needs of diverse user communities, and no primary machinery of communication among those communities.
The Encyclopedia of Earth will be the largest reliable information resource on the environment in history. Imagine every resource describing the Earth from the reference section of the largest university library in the world organized into one work, fully searchable and completely free—but, in addition, kept constantly up-to-date. That is our aim.
The Encyclopedia will be a direct conduit of objective information from scientists and educators to decision makers and civil society at large. It will be the first web-based information resource that combines the trustworthiness and authority of scientific review with the power of web-based collaboration, all enabled by a state-of-the-art technology platform.
The Encyclopedia will be free to the public, have no advertising, and be governed by scientists.
The Encyclopedia is one component of the Earth Portal, the world's first comprehensive resource for timely, objective, science-based environmental information. In addition to the Encyclopedia, the Earth Portal contains news services, structured metadata, a federated environmental search engine, and a suite of stewarding tools that will enable users to effortlessly build subject-specific portals. One of the unique features of the Earth Portal is a comprehensive Digital Earth—a state-of-the-art system for maintaining digital earth databases and simulating views of the earth and/or other planets.
The Environmental Information Coalition (EIC) is the governing body of the Earth Portal. It is comprised of a diverse group of respected scientists and educators and the organizations, agencies,and institutions for which they work. The EIC defines the roles and responsibilities for individuals and institutions involved in the Coalition, as well as the editorial guidelines for Earth Portal content.
ManyOne Networks, Inc., the technology partner of the EIC, backed by individual and institutional investors, is providing both the infrastructure for the Earth Portal and mechanism for sustained financing - the affinity marketing of Earth Portal Internet Services (EarthPortal.net).
The scope of the Encyclopedia is the entire domain of the Earth (that is, the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere) and the interaction of society with the environment. Subject areas include the following:
|Agriculture and Food Animals|
Business and the Environment
Environmental and Ecological Economics
Environmental and Natural Resource Accounting
Environmental and Resource Management
Environmental decision making
Environmental Impact Assessment
Environmental Literature, Art,and Music
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
Fisheries and Aquaculture
|International Environmental Issues |
Land Use and Land Cover Change
Media and the Environment
Mining and Materials
Natural Resource Management and Policy
Pollution Prevention and Recycling
Soils Sustainable Development
Waste Management Water Resources
The audience is the educated lay public—people who think about the world around them, including the environment, and expand their understanding with reading. Their education levels will be from high school graduate to Ph.D. They are intelligent people, but they may know little about the subject the matter on which they seek information. Their ages will range from young students all the way up to octogenarians. The level of writing will fall somewhere between that found in a good newspaper (e.g. NY Times, LA Times) and that found in a good general encyclopedia (e.g. Encyclopedia Britannica).
The Editorial Board of the Encyclopedia will be comprised of leading scholars from the natural, social, and engineering sciences, as well as the humanities, who are recognized as authorities in their fields of research and teaching. The Board will shape the overall vision of the Encyclopedia, guide the selection of content areas, help establish and enforce governance procedures, and otherwise set policy that maintains the highest degree of academic integrity. Board members will be chosen based on their expertise on specific topics and on their ability to help foster a collaborative intellectual work environment.
Authors will be recognized based on their expertise on specific topics and on their ability to communicate jargon-free technical information with sophistication and clarity. This community includes scientists and educators at major research universities as well as teaching-oriented colleges and community colleges; some high school educators; scientists/analysts at think tanks, NGOs, government agencies, etc. who are appropriately qualified; professionals from business, trade groups, professional organizations, etc. who are appropriately qualified.
The Encyclopedia will be built from the bottom-up through the use of a wiki, software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Once given access to the wiki, authors can write articles on topics of their choosing, and comment, edit, and contribute to existing entries. New collaborations, ideas, and entries will dynamically evolve in this environment. In this way, the Encyclopedia will be a constantly evolving, self-organizing, expert-reviewed representation of the sum total of knowledge about the Earth, available free for all, not only to read but also to reproduce and improve.
A somewhat similar process was used to build Wikipedia, the free, general encyclopedia project. Wikipedia, however, which allows all web users to quickly and easily edit content, lacks quality control and reflects a deeply held view that the involvement of experts is unnecessary. As a result, criticism exists regarding the variable accuracy of Wikipedia content. There is consensus on one aspect of the wiki process, however: the model provides a way for people to pool their efforts and collaborate, producing something far better than what the average contributor could produce alone. The Encyclopedia will allow experts in a given area to work together in ways that simply are not possible in standard modes of joint work, opening new frontiers in the quality and amount of work that can be done.
The Encyclopedia will be developed along two distinct but parallel tracks. A Stewarded wiki will be home to approved individuals who are recognized scientific authorities on a particular subject(s). The Environmental Information Coalition will review the credentials of individuals who seek to participate and grant access to the Stewarded wiki only to qualified individuals. Once approved, individuals will have the freedom to contribute original entries or to edit the work of other authors.
A Public wiki will also evolve in parallel with the science Stewarded wiki. As in Wikipedia, non-scientists can provide input to or comment on any topic within the scope of the Encyclopedia's content. Entries will develop on topics already covered in the Stewarded wiki, as well as on entirely new topics. Individuals in the Public will be free to comment on entries in the Stewarded area, but they will not be able to directly edit an entry in the Stewarded area. However, we fully expect that experts in the Stewarded area will stay abreast of contributions in the Public area, as it will certainly be the case that some work that "bubbles up" will merit approval and inclusion in the science.
If the Encyclopedia of Earth will indeed be free to the public, then that freedom must be assured for the future, and not simply presented as "free for now". The sustainability of scientific knowledge requires that it be put in the public trust.
The Encyclopedia of Earth will permit authors to retain original copyright to their work, but will require that an author's work be licensed to the EIC for publication in the Encyclopedia of Earth under an open content license.
Exact policies regarding which open content licenses will be available and/or required must still be established, but open content licenses fall into three general categories:
The most reasonable licenses for the Encyclopedia of Earth are the "free for non-commercial use" and "share and share alike" families of licenses. The "share and share alike" family of licenses must be an option as some relevant existing work (Wikipedia) is licensed under these terms.