The Encyclopedia of Earth
High school teachers and their students require reliable, accessible, and understandable information about nature’s ecosystems and how people interact with them. This is particularly true as we face issues such as climate change, pollution, habitat degradation, and myriad other global and local challenges. Understanding these complex environmental issues requires some basic knowledge of ecology and specific details about the different issues of concern. But where can teachers and students find reliable and useful information on these topics?
Google search results
The development of the internet has opened up new avenues of access to information. In fact, so much information is available that it has become problematic: Internet searches often provide an overwhelming number of links to seemingly relevant sources. For example, Google searches forterms associated with common environmental issues often return millions of entries (Figure 1), but only some of these results are reliable and useful to readers.
No one who wants information about climate change, for example, is going to read all of the 22 million articles produced by a Google search. A simple solution may be to start with the first result listed. Petrilli (2008) found that a Wikipedia article was the first result listed in 87 out of 100 searches and that one of these articles was among the first three results listed 100% of the time. Similarly, when searching environmental terms, a Wikipedia article was listed first 70% of the time and was among the first two articles 100% of the time.
Many teachers caution students about relying on information found on Wikipedia—an online encyclopedia (or wiki) that is written and edited collaboratively by anonymous volunteers from around the world. Wikipedia itself suggests that people “should not use only Wikipedia for primary research” (2009). The popularity of Wikipedia indicates that it can be a useful tool for many purposes, but it may not be the best source for accurate information about the environment.
A reliable resource
For reliable information on the environment written and reviewed by experts, students and teachers can instead turn to the Encyclopedia of Earth (EoE; see “On the web”). Based at Boston University (BU) and operated in partnership with the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), the EoE is a free, fully searchable collection of articles written by scholars, professionals, educators, and experts who review each other’s work using the same collaborative electronic platform as Wikipedia. However—unlike Wikipedia—all EoE articles are written by recognized field experts and are reviewed and approved by qualified topic editors. The EoE is also transparent: All contributors use their real names and all work is tracked and recorded. Authors’ and topic editors’ biographies are available on the site so that readers can see who is producing the information.
The scope of EoE is broadly defined, with particular emphasis on the interaction between society and natural ecosystems. The EoE covers more than 130 topics ranging from agriculture, to resource economics, to zoology. The articles are written in nontechnical language and are intended to be useful to students, educators, scholars, policy makers, professionals, and the general public. The EoE published its first articles in October 2006 and has since grown to include more than 5,000 entries.
Using the EoE
The EoE can be useful to teachers and their students in a variety of ways. The search function makes it easy to find articles related to a particular topic of interest, and all articles contain links to related articles. In addition to individual articles, the EoE also includes special collections on topics ranging from the geography and environments of Africa, to the writings and influence of well-known ecologist Aldo Leopold, to the environmental and social issues in the field of economics. The Ecology Collection, for example, provides the basic information about ecology that students need to place environmental issues in the appropriate context.
The EoE also makes environmental classics available online, including books such as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) and Henry Thoreau’s Walden (1854) and articles such as Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968). The EoE recently published an online environmental science textbook intended for use in Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science classes. High school science teachers may find the EoE helpful when searching for background information to prepare a course section on a particular topic (e.g., biodiversity). They can also refer their students to the EoE as a reliable source for research—and a good alternative to Wikipedia. With so much information available on the internet, it is important to identify particular electronic resources that you trust and can send students to without hesitation. For information on the environment, the EoE is a valuable online resource.
[mailtlo:email@example.com Cynthia Barakatt] is director of content development for the Encyclopedia of Earth at Boston University in Massachusetts; [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org Mark McGinley] is an associate professor in the Honors College and the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, an associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Earth, and a member of its editorial board.
On the web
Encyclopedia of Earth
- Darwin, C. 1859. On the origin of species. United Kingdom: John Murray.
- Hardin, G. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162 (3859): 1243–1248.
- Petrilli, M.J. 2008. Wikipedia or Wickedpedia? Assessing the online encyclopedia’s impact on K–12 education. Education Next 8 (2): 87.
- Thoreau, H. 1854.Walden; or, life in the woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
- Wikipedia. 2009. Wikipedia: Researching with Wikipedia.
Copyright © 2010, National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Reprinted with permission from The Science Teacher, Vol. 77, No. 2, February 2010.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
An encyclopedia on EVERYTHING (environmental)
Anyone who's ever had to sit through the "Wikipedia is not a reliable source" rant knows the frustrations of unreliable information on the internet. Enter the Encyclopedia of Earth (EoE): A new online reference guide to "the Earth, its natural environments and their interactions with society." The entries were written by over 1,000 experts from 60 countries and compiled and content-controlled by an editing staff at Boston University.
"People need to be able to find sources of information on the internet they know they can trust," says Cynthia Barakatt, the EoE's director of content development. "The EoE is a great, reliable source of information on environmental topics that is available to anyone. Our goal is to make environmental information about the Earth and its ecosystems accessible, both in terms of the ability to get to it for free through the internet and to present the information in a way people can understand and use."
The EoE takes material from original peer-reviewed articles (by organizations that allow the EoE to publish their work) and "free and open content sources," such as various government agencies' publications. These sources are edited for length and style, and then added to the site. Currently, there are over 3,500 articles.
Information in the EoE is grouped by topics, ranging from minerals and mining to coral reefs to new energy technologies. Barakatt says that the climate change section is especially comprehensive. "We have many articles and have developed a special collection on the topic, although there are still some areas where we could use more entries, such as the impacts of climate change on oceans and the specifics of how climate change modeling works," she says.
The Encyclopedia is a "wiki," an online community of collaborators who update information, but its editors are quick to point out that it's very different from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is public; anyone can edit any topic, regardless of his or her credentials. The EoE controls its content by using a restricted wiki, and only experts recognized by the program can make changes or additions. The website also includes a section of free ebooks, including Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and Henry David Thoreau's Walden.
The EoE is online at eoearth.org.
— By Raphael Luckom
GoodCleanTech: The Independent Guide to Ecotechnology
Friday, March 7, 2008
The Encyclopedia of Earth: Our World, Written By Experts
If you're looking for information on the environment, parks and public lands, even on how globalization affects the planet, the Encyclopedia of Earth can help. It's a wiki with 2,000-plus articles authored by more than 700 experts from over 50 countries in dozens of fields. The site prides itself on the quality and credibility of its content and has already amassed a collection of articles, e-books, and other resources. If you're a subject-matter expert, you can even sign up to be an author and contribute to the project.
Articles about the environment, environmental policy, and the climate dominate the Encyclopedia of Earth at the moment, but as more experts sign up to write for the service, more topics will appear. Each topic is made up of dozens of sub-articles, so Zoology, for example, includes articles about Arthropoda and Crustacea. The Human Health topic has sub-articles about everything from antibiotics to indoor air quality to the health effects of Selenium.
The Encyclopedia of Earth makes an excellent research tool if you're studying or just want more information on the environment, the climate, or general earth sciences. Similarly, if you've ever wondered what scientists are talking about when they sling around terms like "dynamic modeling," "environmental ethics," and "sustainable development," the EoE can help break down what sounds like a daunting topic with individual articles that help explain it. The EoE has a community section with forums if you want to join or start a discussion on any of the topics.
The bulk of the articles and topics are submitted and edited by scientists, researchers, and professors from colleges and universities around the world. You'll find results of multi-year research projects and studies posted at the EoE alongside articles about free trade and water shortages in Qatar. Additionally, the site partners with over 45 educational institutions, museums, scientific societies, and other non-profits for additional articles and information.
The goal of the service is to provide a definitive and authoritative reference for environmental information, authored by people who know what they're referencing. The scientists behind the site were tired of scouring Google and other search engines for articles on topics of interest to them only to find sites of dubious scientific merit.
The Encyclopedia of Earth is a part of the Earth Portal, a larger project aimed to provide anyone interested in any information about the planet's environment, history, societies, cultures, and countries. Also, because the project is a non-profit organization built by the National Council for Science and the Environment, Boston University, and the Environmental Information coalition, you can donate to the cause to see the project grow.
Posted By: Alan Henry
CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
2007 Aug 44-6568 Internet Resource
Encyclopedia of Earth
Encyclopedia of Earth (EoE) creates a "pile of great content" out of the Web's "great piles of content." Searching global warming, e.g., yields over 40 million hits on Google, but only around 150 on EoE. Quality content is achieved in three ways: authors who are experts in their fields, content partners who follow strict guidelines for inclusion of appropriate topics (e.g., International Arctic Science Committee), and a thorough editorial process. Produced by the Environmental Information Coalition of the National Council for Science and the Environment, EoE strives for objectivity. It handles controversial topics in a neutral manner, without advocacy or biased language but with a balanced perspective representing all sides. EoE's comprehensive scope (traditional environmental disciplines and their interactions with society) makes it valuable for students and professionals. It is free to the public, entirely Web based, and constantly updated. A useful FAQ section lists, among other features, the ways in which EoE differs from Wikipedia (CH, Mar'06, 43-3736). Easily searchable by topic, author, or keyword, each EoE entry is loaded with links to related information. This connectivity makes this type of electronic resource functionally superior to paper-based products. Entries include a table of contents, identification of author/editor as appropriate, links to additional articles by these individuals, topical headings linked to more articles, last update, further reading, and instruction on citing the article. Browsing is facilitated by author, title, and topical heading. This well-organized Web site is free of clutter, with a number of features sure to capture users' interest. Beyond the encyclopedia itself, the site offers a news service and a forum for online discussions and dialogue. Navigation is at once sophisticated yet simple and straightforward, being facilitated through a portal with instant access to archives, scholars, hot topics, RSS, FAQs, and much more.
Summing Up: Recommended. All levels.
—T. Johnson, formerly, Arizona State University