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Last night before I gave a talk in Woods Hole, I got to chat for a very few minutes with David “Paddy” Patterson who heads up the Encyclopedia of Life project. I’d heard a bit about it, and I\ve been meaning to learn a whole lot more. From my narrow point of view, it’s fascinating as an attempt to make itself useful by saying yes to everything. Each species gets its own unique identifier, and if scientists don’t agree on where the species boundaries are, anything that a scientist might want to point at as a species gets its own ID; that way the argument can continue but at least each disputant can point to exactly what she’s talking about. Likewise, it incorporates multiple taxonomies so even if two people disagree about how to organizes the branches of the bush, they can still each use the EoL, and they can still talk with one another without getting lost in the brambles.
In some ways, it’s trying to do the same thing as the OpenLibrary project: Make it possible to aggregate information about things when we don’t agree about what those things are. And in that regard, both of these projects are embodiments of the ontological insecurity the postmodernists were laughed at for.[Tags: eol encyclopedia_of_life openlibrary species taxonomy books everything_is_miscellaneous ]

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