Monday, June 12, 2006

The last of its kind

After EO Wilson's monograph Pheidole appeared, I wrote a rather critical review of this rather unusual volume published by Harvard University Press. My core point was - and still is - that it needs to be open access. Wilson is the proponent of the Encyclopedia of Life, a project aiming at providing for each species its own web page, similar to Wikispecies or ispecies. All these depend on a global collaboration of specialists, and the 10 - 100 million of printed pages of species descriptions are the logic starting point, and thus the problem of coypright needs be resolved. Wilson's position, one of the very few in the field, is to keep the monograph copyrighted. Thus, it could not be linked to the now over 75,000 pages of systematics literature on ant currently available at

Within two weeks after the appearance of my review, Nature published a news article by Rex Dalton, and inhouse science journalist, in which Wilson was cited to state that the publisher is now putting the book online. After few months, I contacted Harvard University Press, where the reply simply was, that this was a misquote, and that the book remains copyrighted. When I asked Wilson directly, he just replied that it is up to Harvard University Press, and added "I ask you to be cautious in future published comments on my intentions and policies".

Still now, more than three years after the appearance of Pheidole, it is still up for USD130.00 as the only way to access its content.

In the meantime, the Encyclopedia of Life has become alive, just that it is now a proteomics initiative in the life science community. There are advances though in systematics such as the Biodiversity Heritage Library and ways to make this content accessible, such as being developed at the American Museum of Natural History. The stumbling block again is copyright, which is, ironically, supported by EO Wilson.


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