In February I wrote in this weblog that I had signed up to the Encyclopedia of Life. This is an ambitious project that aims to provide access for scientists to multiple sources of information on the Internet. I was very excited by the idea, The aims of the project inspired some of the comments I placed here.
However on receiving the second newsletter I have to admit that I was disappointed to find that the EOL had decided to promote the use of closed source photographic software. eol_newsletter_issue2 . Even though this software is free, it usage is restricted to those running the well known proprietary operating system. Furthermore, although I am an advocate of the use of photographic tools and 3d graphics in research, I simply couldn’t see the practical purpose of this particular software tool for research. It appears glossy, but it hardly revolutionizes research practice and knowledge of the world in the way something like Google Earth has done. I also thought that the EOL could complement an Open access information source such as Wikipedia. I am now concerned that the underlying philosophies differ.
I find the the use of 3d graphics and animation thrilling and inspiring. However I believe that initiatives such as the EOL should concentrate their attention on the science first and the presentation later. They should always aim to use cross platform open source solutions for the latter. The showcased plant I was presented with on visiting the site (Calanthea roseus) may perhaps have played an important role in my own family’s destiny (my wife was successfully treated for Hodgkins 10 years ago). However it was detailed knowledge of its chemical composition that allowed this to happen, not a pretty presentation in pseudo 3d. Maybe accepting sponsorship money from Microsoft can further research in some situations. But there is a danger that it comes at the expense of restricting developing elements of academic bioinformatics. Gift horses should sometimes be looked at in the mouth.