Science on E2

Amongst other things, Everything2 is a reference work. We store a huge amount of factual information on practically any topic you can think of, so that there is at least a fairly good chance of finding a short, informative essay on any subject that's not too esoteric, and perhaps many that are. Our coverage of everything grows more and more complete as new, quality writeups come in every day; but the organic way that it is mostly left to grow leaves important areas inadequately covered (for all the best efforts of The Content Rescue Team) and means that things are often hard to find; a node may not be referenced anywhere else except by the odd softlink, and it is not always easy to find things by entering words in a search box - especially if you are searching for something in an area you don't know very much about already.

Everything2 is already a valuable scientific resource for many areas, but it would be much easier to use - and therefore more useful - if our science coverage was indexed by category, and good overviews of a wider range of subjects were included. I would like to be able to go to the node for a field of science like Biology and see a general overview of what the subject entails, along with clear links to its main sub-categories - zoology, botany, anatomy, physiology, and whatever else biology entails. The best way to do this is probably with lists of links, most likely with sub-categories of the sub-categories listed. I think that the general structure of the cookery catalogue works well; a hierarchy with nodes at each level of detail presenting another set of branches (as well as an overview), until we get to lists of nodes on quite specific topics. Each level should include links to the higher levels of the hierarchy - something along the lines of Science : Biology : Anatomy : The Human Anatomy : digestive system. Of course, science isn't really arranged in a neat tree; but with duplicate entries in different places where necessary we should be able to make something usable; and slightly messy indexing is undoubtedly better than no indexing at all. A number of attempts have been made to index particular aspects of science on E2; we have directory nodes at varying levels of completeness under physics, chemistry, biochemistry and mathematics, for example, but biology, aside from the Human Anatomy Project, seems hardly to have been catalogued at all. It's no surprise that the science here isn't better-indexed; it's a lot of work to put together anything like a comprehensive listing of nodes, and then it's a fair bit of work to keep it up to date - and it takes people regularly telling you about nodes to achieve it.


I proposed the creation of the e2science usergroup largely to help co-ordinate efforts on things which are best done collaboratively: In particular, the job of cataloguing E2's science and mapping out enough of science in general to make it clearer what isn't yet covered. There is currently an index of science by field gestating in a collaboration node created for this project, the Science Index (this can be viewed and edited by any member of E2science, but cannot be seen by the general noding public). An index of scientists by type has already been completed. Between us, I think we can do a lot of things that no one person might have the knowledge or the time to tackle on their own. This is going to take noders volunteering to look after the indexing of particular areas of science and keeping the indices up to date; hopefully people will become aware of the noders looking after various areas, and message them when they add relevant writeups. If someone wants to take full responsibility for a field, there's nothing to stop them from creating and looking after an index entirely on their own account; but for people who would prefer to get other people involved this account should help. Hopefully this should also make it easier to keep directory nodes maintained after their creators leave.

The E2science group doesn't exist solely to look after this cataloguing project; I also wanted a forum for the exchange of ideas about the noding of science - and perhaps this will also provide a better way of bringing sparsely-covered scientific topics to the attention of those who are able to remedy the situation than the Content Rescue Team alone. Clearly we will need to work with the CRT in various ways; for one thing the Science and Technology section of The Content Rescue Team : Nodes provides a good starting point to look for areas of science which still need to be covered.

Another thing a science noding group could obviously be used for is to provide feedback and advice to people writing about science on E2. If every science writeup coming in was advertised on the list, that could get to be a problem, but people asking the group to look at substantial contributions in case they have anything to suggest every now and then is probably not going to hurt. Usually, it will be best to ask while the writeup is on your scratchpad.

Yet another possibility of this knowledge-congregation might be to get science questions answered. /msg your science questions to E2_Science, and perhaps someone who knows the field will find it and answer it, whether by msg or by writing a node...

Finally, it might be interesting to see a regular E2 Science Report listing all or most of the new science writeups that have come in since the last edition; I would quite like not to miss any good new writeups in areas of science that interest me. At the moment, E2science is housing a collection of science nodes that members of the group have linked to using the Sciencify! link. Perhaps the future will bring a sort of 'random node' link that is restricted to science nodes, and automated lists of science writeups. A report broken down by category could possibly be produced by people taking charge of indexing particular areas.

When we say 'science'...

At the edges of science are large grey areas which may or may not be counted as part of science, depending on what you think that word means. Most of mathematics doesn't share the experimentation that is often taken to be a defining characteristic of science, while in medicine and many of the social sciences experimentation is often too tightly bound up with practice - with human lives - to fit in with standard characterisations of the scientific method. However, the limitations this places on objectivity don't stop these fields from advancing human knowledge, and all of them are inspired by the same ideals as the experimental sciences; all, I think, fall within E2cience's remit - at least to the extent that they employ scientific thinking, or science makes use of them. Similarly, theoretical and experimental computer science are covered - but the details of computer technology which are often included under that heading are not really our concern. It seems sensible also to include the history and philosophy of science.

On writing about science for Everything2

Many people feel that Everything2 (in its capacity as a database of knowledge) is at its best when it imparts information in a way that can be understood by the general E2 reader - assuming some degree of intelligence, but a minimum of technical knowledge. On the other hand, it is true that Everything2 is well-structured to take writing at various levels of technical detail; writeups which are impenetrable to anyone but a trained chemist, mathematician, physicist or whatever don't do anyone any harm, as long as they're not obstructing more comprehensible stuff; they just lose a large part of their potential audience very quickly. Of course, this depends to a degree on the topic being covered; someone with no mathematical background reading a node with a title like cyclotomic polynomial is probably asking for trouble, whereas terms that have entered common usage really need to start with an explanation which makes sense to a layperson. Whatever the subject, it's very often wise to begin with an easy introductory paragraph explaining what the node is about in broad brushstrokes. BlueDragon's writing for a wider audience has good advice on making scientific and other fact-based writeups accessible to the widest possible audience.

How to join

I am the leader of this group, so /msg me and I'll add you as long as you seem to be vaguely knowledgeable about science. The list of current members can be found at E2science. New members are encouraged to look over the Science Index to see what's being worked on collaboratively and whether they have anything to add, and Science to Write for a list of science that the database lacks; and to /msg E2science with any questions or big ideas about science noding or the E2 Science project. A concise introduction to the group can be found on the home node of E2_Science, the group's shared user account.

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