A Chance to Contribute

Fabre circa 1913

Image via Wikipedia

The internet is my library.

Without it, my learning about the plants here in Panama would be unbearably slow. I often think of Jean Henri Fabre who had to mail out plant specimens and wait for a botanist to reply before he could learn the name of the plant his insect was eating (or using for nesting material or whatever else). Would I have had that kind of patience?

Fortunately, I don’t have to test my character in that way. The vast resources of the internet solve the patience problem for me.

Not long ago, though, as I was going through my usual routine before writing up a plant, I came across a mislabeled image. Actually, I see mislabeled images frequently, but this one showed up at Encyclopedia of Life and was the feature image for the sandpaper tree, Curatella americana.

Now I’m very much an amateur, and a lot of the time I don’t know whether a plant image is mislabeled or not. But I happen to know Curatella americana very well, and I know its relative, the sandpaper vine, Davilla kunthii even better. The image in EOL was of supposed to be of Curatella americana leaves but was actually of a Davilla sp. leaves.

It turned out that the image appeared in wikimedia commons as well, and showed up when doing a search in wikipedia for Curatella americana.

I could not abide it that people would see this image of those leaves and think they were looking at Curatella americana!

Fortunately, both wikimedia and EOL are, like good scientists, set up to be self-correcting. Many eyes find truth. So I signed up to edit the wikimedia image and had the instant gratification of seeing my correction online. Within a few days, the file itself was re-labeled and so the image no longer shows up as C. americana in a wikipedia search.

For EOL, I submitted some of my images of C. americana to the EOL Flickr group. Within a few days, my own image then showed up when searching for C. americana. Luckily, EOL has a rigorous authentication procedure and eventually the erroneous image would have been caught. Now a real botanist will be authenticating my own image and may very well substitute an even better one.

Isn’t my library wonderful?

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About Mary

I spent a few years at sea, and I never came back from a cruise without having learned something new about the ocean or what lived in it. Now I'm starting over, learning something new about the tropical savanna ecosystem nearly every day I step outside. My focus is on plants because I know so little about them and find them so interesting.
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One Response to A Chance to Contribute

  1. Sally says:

    Love this post!! I too have great faith in the self-correcting powers of collaborative online efforts like Wikipedia. Unfortunately, my attempt at correcting ThePlantList.org is taking a little longer! I’m glad you had good results…

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