Sometime back Brian at Clastic Detritus expressed his unwillingness for contributing geology articles to Wikipedia. He was concerned of getting trapped in endless edit wars where materials written by genuine experts are edited by people with no real expertise in the topic leading to corrections and re-corrections and so on..
I see his point. He has been through battling fringe views on geology before. So have I. Maybe that experience has colored his views on Wiki. I saw in his comments thread a somewhat rancorous debate on this topic. What I did get a sense was that ...well what is the alternative to Wiki? Now I do make it a point to link to as much primary literature as possible through my posts. But let's face it. Most primary literature is behind pay walls and secondly it is not much use if you want to refer to general concepts. Which means I end up linking to Wiki articles as well.
I agree with a lot of commentators who stress that Wiki articles should be considered good starting points and not necessarily the most authoritative view on the subject of interest. But much of the general public scanning the web may not see it that way or even realize that Wiki may not have the best content. There are scientists and faculty who do maintain web pages explaining geology general concepts. But these are scattered and may miss out being placed high on Google search index. Wiki dominates so much that invariably that is the first link you go to from search results.
So, my question to the geoblogosphere, is it time for a Geoscience Scitable?
Recently I came across this resource by Nature Education. It is a free science library which currently has only topics on Genetics and Evolution. But I like the concept very much. Articles on various subtopics are written by subject experts and there is a editor for each broad area. The authors and editors are clearly named along with their affiliation. And the Nature brand name is well respected and lends a certain credibility to the content.
You cannot edit the articles.... do I hear a sigh of relief?!!! ..But you can join a group - which could be either private or public - that matches your interest or you can start a discussion on that article if you feel like expanding on the topic or criticizing it. This ensures that your involvement need not be just a static reading experience but a more participatory one. You can post a question to an expert and there are faculty who are part of the discussion groups to mentor and guide discussions along.
Do check out this resource. Do you think this would be a useful platform for hosting geology content? Would you be willing to contribute to a Geosciences Scitable? I feel even without additional resources like virtual classrooms, just a well written article explaining general concepts by a named expert alongside a functionality to start a parallel discussion on it would be a boon.
There is a lot of potential in Scitable but I am not suggesting that it will replace Wikipedia in the short term as the prominent place to go to for reference. Even if a geosciences initiative takes off - and Nature Education will have to be persuaded to start a geology project - building content will take time. Early adopters of Scitable are likely to be educational institutions who could recommend it to students and that kind of a captive audience would give it a reasonable membership and a launching pad. But as a open resource for the general public there will be challenges to overcome .....even with the best written articles how do we get it be indexed higher than Wiki on your search results :)
Take a look though. It may just be the future alternative platform to Wiki that people are looking for in terms of reliable science content for general concepts and reference.