Where does the content in the Encyclopedia of Earth (EoE) come from?
The Encyclopedia of Earth has content from three different sources:
- Original articles written by EoE authors. These are individuals who are experts in their fields as judged by their peers and by their track record of distinguished research, teaching, writing, training, and public outreach in their field. You can view our current list of authors here.
- Content Partners. These are organizations who have reached a formal agreement with the EoE to have their existing material published in the Encyclopedia. In most cases, such material is published verbatim from the Partner organization, with some editing for style and length to make the entry consistent with EoE guidelines. Remaining consistent with the EoE governance guidelines, once the entry is up on the EoE, authors may then add to or edit that material. Every entry from a Content Partner is assigned to, and must be approved by, at least one Topic Editor. You can view our current list of Content Partners here.
- Free and Open Content Sources. The typical example here is a government agency whose work rests fully in the public domain, such as many federal government publications. Other examples include non-profit and educational organizations whose copyright allows free use for educational and non-commercial purposes. In most cases, such material is published verbatim from the organization, with some editing for style and length to make the entry consistent with EoE guidelines. Remaining consistent with the EoE governance guidelines, once the entry is up on the EoE, authors may then add to or edit that material. Every entry from a Content Source is assigned to, and must be approved by, at least one Topic Editor. You can view our current list of Content Sources here.
Every article from a Content Partner or a free and open Content source carries this disclaimer:
This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the <organization name here>. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the <organization name here> should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.
Who are the authors of original content in the EoE?
Authors are experts in their fields as judged by their peers and by their track record of distinguished research, teaching, writing, training, and public outreach within their area of expertise. This community of scholars 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.; professionals from business, trade groups, professional organizations, etc. who are appropriately qualified. A large percentage of authors have a Ph.D. or a similar terminal degree in their field (for example, a J.D. in the field of Law). The EoE currently has about 550 authors--you can view the current list here.
Who Publishes the EoE?
The Encyclopedia is published by the Environmental Information Coalition (EIC), National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), Washington D.C., USA. NCSE is a 501(c)(3)non-profit organization with a reputation for objectivity, responsibility, and achievement in its promotion of a scientific basis for environmental decision-making. The EIC, the governing body of the Earth Portal, 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, including the EoE.
Who decides who can contribute?
The of the Editorial Board of Environmental Information Coalition (EIC), the governing body of the Earth Portal, reviews the qualifications of all applicants to the EoE authors' wiki. The EIC 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 the EoE. The EIC, in turn, is governed by its own set of bylaws, a Board of Directors, and an International Advisory Board with renowned scholars from diverse fields.
How do I know I can trust the information in the EoE?
The EoE has a rigorous content-review process that insures that its articles are up-to-date, fair, and accurate.
- Authors are restricted to individuals who have applied to, and been approved by, the Editorial Board the Environmental Information Coalition for the Earth Portal. The Environmental Information Coalition (EIC), in turn, is governed by its own set of bylaws, a Board of Directors, and an International Advisory Board with renowned scholars from diverse fields.
- The actual content of an article is determined by groups of scientists working together on the wiki. An article may start with an individual or small team, but once up in the wiki, the content can, and will, be edited by other individuals who have an interest in the subject and the motivation to improve the article. An article eventually will have many more topic editors, authors, and copy editors than when it began. This process will produce an article that is far superior to what any single individual could possibly create.
- A Topic Editor must approve an article before it is released to the public. A Topic Editor reviews an article for general content, accuracy, clarity, and adherence to Encyclopedia guidelines. A Topic Editor also resolves content-level disputes authoritatively and coherently, though with input from the contributors, and determines the appropriateness of deleting mediocre work.
- All work in the Encyclopedia is attributed to an individual, not an IP address or a user name. This motivates individuals to do their very best work, as it does in traditional scholarly work, and will discourage the explicit acts of sabotage that plague other electronic resources where anonymity is the norm.
How do articles get written?
Articles are written by authors on a wiki. A wiki is website or similar online resource that allows users to add and edit content collectively, including the ability to change text written by other users. Thus, wikis are well-suited for collaborative authoring. The name derives from the Hawaiian term wiki, meaning "quick", "fast", or "to hasten."
The authors' version of the Encyclopedia of Earth is a restricted-access wiki that uses MediaWiki software. This software enables collaborative article development by a community of scholars, as well as a content review process. Once an author is given access to the authors' wiki, they is free to add any entries that lie within their area of expertise, or edit existing articles in those subject areas. Articles are in a constant state of expansion, revision and enhancement as new authors join and as existing authors update their work.
Is a wiki really necessary?
A restricted-access wiki is an excellent tool to produce an information resource that:
- is completely Web-based;
- covers an enormous range of topics related to the environment;
- is kept constantly up-to-date across diverse fields;
- is completely free to the public;
- includes input from scores of traditional disciplines and professions, and thousands of qualified contributors; and
- openly attributes all significant contributions to individuals and their institutions.
Article quality can be expected to be remarkably high in an adequately active wiki project staffed by experts, for several reasons. Most importantly, the contributors will be well-educated specialists. Also, the work is immediately publicly visible and, therefore, people will tend to post better work than they would otherwise. Finally, the energy of so many scholars, who already know and respect each other, will help motivate all of them to do their best.
What's the difference between an article on the authors' wiki and the one at this site?
When an author feels that an article is ready to be published, a Topic Editor is notified and then reviews the article. If it is of sufficiently high quality, the Topic Editor then moves the article to the public site. After initial publication, the article on the authors' wiki continues to be expanded, revised, and improved. When an author feels that the wiki version is superior to the public version, the Topic Editor repeats the review and publication process, and the revised article appears at the public site.
What about controversial topics?
The EoE has an explicit policy regarding neutrality and fairness, the details of which can be found here. In a nutshell, the policy requires that:
- EoE articles, when touching upon any issue of controversy, must represent every different view on a subject that attracts a significant portion of adherents, with each such view and its arguments or evidence being expressed as fairly and sympathetically as possible.
- The EoE itself does not advocate positions on environmental issues; it is both non-partisan and non-sectarian.
- The EoE does not use phraseology or tone that elevates or deprecates particular perspectives or people holding a particular perspective.
- The EoE recognizes uncertainties in data, assumptions, interpretation, and understanding.
- As access to the broadest array of knowledge has many salutary effects, the Encyclopedia of Earth shall be strongly disposed to include rather than exclude content.
- When some content both has no discernible and unique benefit to the advancement of knowledge, and has significant potential to harm the health or moral character of individuals, of human society at large, or of the environment, it may be excluded.
What's the difference between Topic Editor, Lead Author, and Contributing Author?
Lead Author status is given to someone who starts a truly excellent article, or who significantly expands a previously incomplete article, making it into an excellent, usable, and complete article. Contributing Authors are those who write or significantly rework the content. Topic Editors are those who review an entry and decide if it is ready to be published, arbitrate disputes, and help set overall editorial policy.
Can I use material published in the EoE?
The text in the Encyclopedia of Earth is meant to be freely available to users who may copy, modify and distribute that content, so long as the new version grants the same freedoms to others and attributes the content to the authors of the Encyclopedia of Earth article used. To achieve this goal, the text contained in the Encyclopedia of Earth is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons license known as Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5. This license permits anyone to (1) copy, distribute, and display your work, (2) work remix, tweak, and build upon your work, and to make commercial use of your work, subject to these conditions:
- Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.
- Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
What is the connection between the EoE and the Earth Portal?
The Encyclopedia is a crosscutting component of the Earth Portal, a comprehensive resource for timely, objective, science-based information about the environment. It is a means for the global scientific community to come together to produce the first free, expert-driven, massively scaleable information resource on the environment, and to engage civil society in a public dialogue on the role of environmental issues in human affairs. It contains no commercial advertising and reaches a large global audience.
The Earth Portal has three components:
- The Encyclopedia of Earth
- The Earth Forum, with commentary from scholars and discussions with the general public.
- The Earth News, with news stories on environmental issues drawn from many sources.
How is the EoE different than Wikipedia?
- Virtually anyone can add, delete, or change content in Wikipedia. In the EoE, this privilege is restricted to individuals judged by their peers to be experts in their fields according to the Encyclopedia's governance policy.
- Content on Wikipedia is determined by the equally-weighted voices of all those who want and choose to contribute. The EoE is part scholarly-democracy and part rigorous-meritocracy. The EoE is democratic in the sense that many content and governance decisions are made with input from many diverse scholars. But, the EoE is also a rigorous meritocracy in the sense that important, overreaching editorial decisions are made by the Senior Editors and the Topic Editors and applied to each and every article.
- In Wikipedia, there is a view that the involvement of scholars is not necessary to produce an authoritative article. The EoE is based on the premise that input from scholars is essential to produce trustworthy information about the environment.
- Authorship in Wikipedia is anonymous. All work in the EoE is attributed to the individual who did it.
- Changes to Wikipedia articles are viewable by the public instantly. Changes to the EoE are viewable instantly by participants, but article versions must be approved by a Topic Editor prior to being published to the public website.
- The restricted access nature of the EoE authors' wiki in combination with the content review process significantly reduces the opportunity and means for bad entries to start in the first place, as well as the length of time they could go undetected.
- The taxonomy of the Encyclopedia of Earth organizes articles according to a logical structure developed by experts.
How will the EoE avoid the quality control problems associated with Wikipedia?
- We restrict access to the wiki, and hence all authorship, to experts who have been vetted by other members of the editorial workgroup and the Editorial Board of the Environmental Information Coalition (EIC), the overall governing body of the Earth Portal and the Encyclopedia of Earth.
- With the freedom and ability to have entries written and edited by multiple authors, there should be strong self-policing and quality control. The incremental and iterative work on entries by a group of self-organizing experts should produce a higher quality product than a single author could ever produce.
- No article is published to this public site unless it has been reviewed and approved by a Topic Editor(s).
- All work in the EoE is attributed to an individual, not an IP address or a user name as is the policy in Wikipedia. This will motivate individuals to do their very best work, as it does in traditional scholarly work, and will it discourage the explicit acts of sabotage that plague other electronic resources where anonymity is the norm.
- There are global content and governance controls via the International Advisory Board for the Earth Portal and the Encyclopedia of Earth.
The EoE has an explicit policy regarding the use of Wikipedia content that insures that every article in the EoE meets its high standards for accuracy, objectivity, and neutrality. You can read that policy here.
Why can't I find a specific article?
The EoE launched in October 2006 with approximately 1,000 articles, and now has more than 3,500. Clearly, this number of articles covers only a small fraction of information related to Earth. New authors are continuously joining the effort, so the number of articles will grow rapidly over time.
Where can one download all EoE articles at once?
Currently one can download articles individually. We're planning to add a "data dump" of all published EoE articles at some point in the near future.