More about our site launch. Here is a transcript of an interview with EoPS Executive Director Joel Baker that aired on KUOW on October 24, 2012. 

KUOW Weekday interview with Joel Baker, Katy Sewall. October 24, 2012.

More about our site launch. Here is a transcript of an interview with EoPS Executive Director Joel Baker that aired on KUOW on October 24, 2012. 

KUOW Weekday interview with Joel Baker, Katy Sewall. October 24, 2012.

Katy Sewall: An online encyclopedia about the waters of Puget sound is being launched today. The idea is to collect and combine the best possible information from experts on Puget Sound in an effort to restore and protect it. They’re calling it “curated crowdsourcing.” Here to talk more about it is Joel Baker. He holds the Port of Tacoma chair in environmental science at the University of Washington and is the science director for the Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma. Thanks for coming in.

Joel Baker: Thanks for having me.

KS: So, why did you decide to create an encyclopedia about the Puget Sound specifically?

JB: Well, the Puget Sound is really a complicated system, and we know that in order to effect stewardship of the system we need to understand the entire thing, and that’s quite a daunting challenge. One of the things we’ve discovered is that not one single person knows everything about something as complicated as Puget Sound, so we really need to form a team. We’re blessed in this region with lots of really smart people, lots of scientists and engineers who’ve worked on Puget Sound for a really long time. The intent of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound is to provide a forum where they can bring their information into one place and where they can go to get information from others.

KS: What makes it different from other databases or other information that’s out there is you’re trying to make it all come together instead of being scattershot across the web?

JB: Yeah, that’s part of it. The interesting thing is that there’s lots and lots of data, we live in this age where data just streams in all the time, in some ways we’re flooded with information, flooded with data. But science really requires digestion, it requires time to reflect on what the information is telling you, it requires time to talk with your colleagues, so the Encyclopedia is really meant to be, in some ways sort of a coffeehouse, a place where people can go online and discuss the issues of the day with other colleagues.

KS: Do you expect it to be mainly used by scientists that are studying PS?

JB: We do. We describe it as something that is by scientists, for scientists. There are lots of very good websites about Puget Sound that are geared more towards the general public, or for K-12 education. The encyclopedia is likely to be useful for others, but it’s really geared towards the scientists and engineers who are actively engaged in the profession.

KS: One of the things I liked about it when I was just perusing around was the species library, personally just because I like critters. How are you collecting those pictures and information about creatures that are in the Puget Sound?

JB: The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound does have a species library, and I give Jeff Rice, our managing editor, lots of credit for pulling that together. That’s a collaboration with an organization called NatureServe, and as incredible as it sounds, there wasn’t a single coherent list of all the species that exist in Puget Sound, so the Encyclopedia sought to bring those together. And it’s an example of the kinds of things that we can do, where we’re not creating new information, but we’re taking advantage of others who have pulled together information and we’re bringing it into a single place for Puget Sound that’s easy to access and easy to use.

KS: I know that you’re doing a kickoff event and a panel discussion to celebrate the new encyclopedia that’s being held at the UW School of Fisheries Sciences auditorium today at 3:30, and open to the public for anyone who wants to go. What are you going to be talking about at the panel discussion?

JB: Well we have on the panel both local scientists but also we’ve brought people from the Encyclopedia of the Earth and Encyclopedia of Life, which are two similar efforts that are already underway, one based at Harvard and the other one is really focused on life sciences issues. There’s lots of technical issues related to how you pull these encyclopedias together, and there’s lots of issues related to how you review information that comes into you, how do you archive it? This idea of crowdsourced curation is a new one for us, so there’s lots of issues about how you incentivize scientists to participate, and how you evaluate what goes into the Encyclopedia, and how the editing process works. The discussion is really about all those aspects of it.

KS: I’m talking with Joel Baker about a new online encyclopedia about the waters of Puget Sound that’s being launched today. When you’re talking about crowdsourcing, you’re not talking about me writing an article about a fish I saw scuba diving and sending it to you.

JB: We’re not, and we really struggled with that. The original idea with the encyclopedia was let’s just open it up to the entire world, have people send us everything, and then we’ll sort through it, and we found that that wasn’t a productive way to proceed. So we have a select group of nine leading scientists from the region that form our editorial advisory board, and they’re the ones that are really helping us evaluate what information should be pulled into the Encyclopedia. We do have the ability for anyone to access the Encyclopedia and provide comments, but that’s more in a sort of commenting mode as opposed to creating content.

KS: And finally, how is this project actually being funded?

JB: This is part of the Puget Sound Institute, which is a collaboration between the University of Washington and the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Puget Sound Partnership at the state level. So the funding comes from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

KS: And what are your aspirations for the Encyclopedia?

JB: Well, my aspiration is that it persists, that twenty years from now it’s still there. And that the scientists and engineers in the region see this as the place to go. I would love it if this was their home page when they turn on their computer in the morning.