How to solve AronRa’s phylogeny challenge


The solution to the challenge as presented in AronRa’s video is, of course, multifold.

– One, we create an open-source phylogeny display/explorer program. Something like this may already exist.

– Two, we create a wiki run either by paleobiologists or via a democratic system wherein every registered user gets to vote on every change, and use as the starting point the existing data collated by Palaeos and Tree of Life. The Palaeos wiki is a good example, but it depended too heavily on the contributions of the original contributor, and will likely take a long time to catch up to the depth of the original.

– Three, the data supplied on the wiki has a downloadable/editable database that can be incrementally synchronized between users via registered user accounts, so researchers might contribute suggestions for changes that are peer-reviewed by the people in charge.

The strength of the open format is that it does not depend on individual contributors — neither the proposed application nor the wiki falls apart if the single point of failure, the person involved, happens to either get a life or lose it. One does not have to take on the Sisyphean task of categorizing every creature in the world alone. And granted, like Wikipedia, the weakness is that some idiots will piss in the pool. The advantage is that it is peer-reviewed on the fly, live, by people with a vested interest in having a good, accurate primer for evolution and a usable database for phylogeny and the evidence thereof. All we’d need is to set up rules that trusted moderators could regulate, where uncited additions are discussed and either cited, or reverted, depending on how important that reference happens to be. Controversial pages could be stamped with specific scientists’ peer-review stamps and locked once a number of them agree on what the page should say, roughly.

We can get our shit together on this. We just have to learn to trust others to help us do the job.

(You thought I was going to try to answer AronRa’s REAL challenge, about “created kinds”? Heh. You must not know me very well!)

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