Re: Open Access: The Next Step

From: Donat Agosti <agosti_at_AMNH.ORG>
Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2007 10:14:08 +0100

"No. Until the fight for open access to the present and future is won, we
should focus all energy, effort and attention on winning it, not continue to
run off in all directions, as we have for over a decade, while getting no
place fast." SH

I think we need to focus, but at the same time we need to use the energy and
opportunities which are offered to us from all indivduals. "Self archiving"
is for us all well known, but why self archiving is needed and for what, is
not known in every place. That's why I suggest to print this little note,
since it includes an important reason why we need self registration or even
better open access: so people can use and mine all the information.


EO Wilson recipient of the TED award

On March 8, EO Wilson will receive the TED Prize. It is a very prestigious
award by the 1000 thought-leaders, movers and shakers in Technology,
Entertainment and Design. The winners receive USD100,000 and can formulate a
wish which the members of the TED community pledged to help to fulfill.

Congratulations to Ed Wilson to yet another great award, another
confirmation of his outstanding achievements!

Let's speculate that Ed Wilson is going to fulfill his boyhood dream of an
encyclopedia of life for ants. So, what would be needed to make this dream

Ants are already on of the best documented group of animals in the world.
There is an online catalogue of all the ants of the world updated as soon as
another species is added to the currently known 11,981 species. This
includes a digital library linked to from the species citations to pdfs of
all the non-copyrighted descriptions. Currently, all these over 4,000
publications are being transformed to text by the Internet Archive, and the
special mark-up schema, taxonx. is added for species and treatments or the
descriptions of the species. There are an estimated 6,500 species
documented with high resolution, magnificent standard images, even well
worth printing in large scale and hanging them on your wall. Through Brian
Fisher's and Jack Longino's superb collecting efforts in such biologically
important areas as Madagascar and Costa Rica, ants have most likely one of
the best documented surveys for any group of animals world wide, easily
accessible online. The evolution of ants is well documented through large
scale DNA-based analysis. On top of this, data aggregator such as ispecies
are using mash-up technologies to collect all these information
automatically - information which is added by a large, sprawling community
worldwide. This infrastructure and its content already has a broad impact
beyond the ant world, especially into education and other life sciences

What is missing? There are three issues, that is building up and maintaining
the global infrastructure, the transfer of legacy data, that is publications
and specimen data into the digital realm, and the generation of new research
as input into such a system, which .

TED could help make advances in each of these three areas. Most likely, the
biggest impact, and one with an impact well beyond ants alone, would be to
get the TED crowd to agree to build up a Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
repository and resolver for all the systematics legacy publications, the
descriptions of the species, the species names, and the specimens. These are
the basic building blocks of systematics through which the entire
information on animals and plants could be pulled together now, but
especially in a semantic Web or Web2.0 environment. It would also be the
best complement to the Biodiversity Heritage Library by the large US and UK
natural history museums and institutions which will free knowledge hidden in
millions of published literature.

Linking a statement with its evidence

Such a DOI based system would allow linking any comment made on the
distribution or behavior of a species to its original observation or
reference specimen with an attached Global Positioning System record. This
will allow to pinpoint not only the proper name of and the specimen itself,
but also its precise geographic origin which is living up to and can made
the best out of high resolution satellite or map data, such as now publicly
available at Google-Earth. Mash-up technologies would allow getting all
additional information needed automatically, such as DNA-BarCode sequence,
conservation status, studies on the biology or medical use or the increasing
number of images and movies on Youtube or Yahoo as examples.

Open access to biodiversity knowlege

An agreement by the publishers to allow open access to all the articles in
their journal covering the description of species, or even better
biodiversity and conservation will have a similar impact as the applications
of DOI's. Alternatively, the use of specific mark-up in their journal
articles, delimiting the description allowing automatic data mining and
extraction and thus building up the global Encyclopedia of Life.


Finally, taking images of all those groups of ants which are increasingly
used in surveys and to measure the loss of biodiversity ought to be another
priority, since images are by far the most important element to identify
species. This would ideally complement ongoing world wide efforts by a
rapidly increasing crowd of specialists and amateurs.

Getting this infrastructure up would enable anybody in the world, from E.O.
Wilson in his little home town in Alabama to any place in the developing
world to participate in this feast of knowledge and motivate more people
like Awatif Omer in Khartoum to pursue the discovery of new species in such
places like Sudan. The usage of all this information by the crowd, rather
then expert's opinion, would then decide what the most authoritative
contributions are


Catalogue of the ants of the World: (in collaboration
with the Hymenoptera Name Server): literature digitized with partial support
from the Atherton Seidall Foundation at the Smithsonian Institution.

Online scientific images of ants:;,

Mashups: ispecies (
;#x0026;submit=Go) and

Biodiversity Heritage Library:

Taxonx: an example of a systematics specific mark-up schema:

An overview of the global ant community:

Dr. Donat Agosti
Science Consultant
Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History and Naturmuseum der
Burgergemeinde Bern
Skype: agostileu

Current Location
Dalmaziquai 45
3005 Bern
+41-31-351 7152
Received on Fri Feb 23 2007 - 12:38:33 GMT

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