Encyclopedia of Earth,


Welcome to the Encyclopedia of Earth, a new electronic reference about the Earth, its natural environments, and their interaction with society. The Encyclopedia is a free, fully searchable collection of articles written by scholars, professionals, educators, and experts who collaborate and review each other’s work. The articles are written in non-technical language and will be useful to students, educators, scholars, professionals, as well as to the general public.

The Need for a New Reference on the Environment

The motivation behind the Encyclopedia of Earth is simple. Go to Googleâ„¢ and type in climate change, pesticides, nuclear power, sustainable development, or any other important environmental issue. Doing so returns millions of results, some fraction of which are authoritative. The remainder is of poor or unknown quality.

This illustrates a stark reality of the Web: digital information on the environment is characterized by an abundance of “great piles of content” and a dearth of “piles of great content.” In other words, there are many resources for environmental content, but there is no central repository of authoritative information that meets the needs of diverse user communities. Our goal is to make the Encyclopedia of Earth the largest reliable information resource on the environment in history.

The People and Institutions Behind the Encyclopedia

The Environmental Information Coalition (EIC) is comprised of a diverse group of respected scientists and educators, and the organizations, agencies, and institutions for which they work. The EIC defines the roles and responsibilities for individuals and institutions involved in the Coalition, as well as the editorial guidelines for the Encyclopedia.

The Stewardship Committee of the Environmental Information Coalition develops and enforces policies and guidelines for the Encyclopedia, with input from Topic Editors and Authors.

The EIC is governed by its own set of bylaws and an International Advisory Board with renowned scholars from diverse fields.

The Secretariat for the EIC is the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), Washington D.C., USA. NCSE is a 501(c)(3)non-profit organization with a reputation for objectivity, responsibility, and achievement in its promotion of a scientific basis for environmental decision-making.

The Department of Geography and Environment and the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University also provide editorial support.

Content sources for the Encyclopedia of Earth

The Encyclopedia has content from three different sources:

  • Original articles written by EoE authors. These are individuals who are experts in their fields as judged by their peers and by their track record of distinguished research, teaching, writing, training, and public outreach in their field. You can view our current list of authors here.
  • Content Partners. These are organizations who have reached a formal agreement with the EoE to have their existing material published in the Encyclopedia. In most cases, such material is published verbatim from the Partner organization, with some editing for style and length to make the entry consistent with EoE guidelines. Remaining consistent with the EoE governance guidelines, once the entry is up on the EoE, authors may then add to or edit that material. Every entry from a Content Partner is assigned to, and must be approved by, at least one Topic Editor. You can view our current list of Content Partners here.
  • Free and Open Content Sources. The typical example here is a government agency whose work rests fully in the public domain, such as many federal government publications. Other examples include non-profit and educational organizations whose copyright allows free use for educational and non-commercial purposes. In most cases, such material is published verbatim from the organization, with some editing for style and length to make the entry consistent with EoE guidelines. Remaining consistent with the EoE governance guidelines, once the entry is up on the EoE, authors may then add to or edit that material. Every entry from a Content Source is assigned to, and must be approved by, at least one Topic Editor. You can view our current list of Content Sources here.

The Scope of the Encyclopedia of Earth

The scope of the Encyclopedia of Earth is the environment of the Earth broadly defined, with particular emphasis on the interaction between society and the natural spheres of the Earth. The scope of the Encyclopedia thus includes:

  • The hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, magnetosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere, and their interactions, especially in regards to how these systems support life and underpin human existence.
  • The living organisms on Earth that constitute its biological diversity.
  • The interactions and feedbacks among society, biological diversity and the physical systems of the Earth. This includes the social, economic, political, behavioral, technical, cultural, legal, and ethical driving forces behind environmental change.
  • Those parts of traditional disciplines that investigate the environment or its interaction with society. This includes the natural, physical, and social sciences, the arts and humanities, and the professional disciplines (education, journalism, business, law, public health, engineering, medicine, public policy).
  • The interdisciplinary fields of environmental science—natural and social—that integrate concepts, methods, and analytical tools from multiple fields in the investigation the environment or its interaction with society. Examples include:
    • Environmental physical sciences such as atmospheric sciences, Earth systems science, remote sensing, biogeochemistry, oceanography, and other non-biological terrestrial sciences.
    • Environmental life sciences such as environmental biology, ecology, forestry, fisheries, marine biology, agriculture, aquaculture, and related fields.
    • Environmental engineering and other sciences related to the impacts of natural and anthropogenic activities on the environment, including assessment, prevention, control, regulation, remediation, and restoration.
    • Environmental social sciences such as ecological and environmental economics, environmental sociology and history, and other fields that study human social and cultural activities which affect, and are affected by, environmental conditions.
    • Environmental data and information sciences that deal with the collection, storage, standardization, integration, analysis, and management of data related to the analysis of the environment or environmental change.

The Editorial and Publication Process

Authors and Topic Editors are experts in their fields as judged by their peers and by their track record of distinguished research, teaching, writing, training, and public outreach in their field. This community of scholars includes scientists and educators at major research universities as well as teaching-oriented colleges and community colleges; some high school educators; scientists/analysts at think tanks, NGOs, government agencies, etc.; professionals from business, trade groups, professional organizations, etc. who are appropriately qualified.

Content for the Encyclopedia is created, maintained, and governed by this community of experts via a specially adapted “wiki” – an online tool that allows experts to collectively add and edit web content. Unlike other, well-known wikis, such as Wikipedia, access is restricted to approved experts and all content is reviewed and approved by Topic Editors prior to being published from the wiki to this public site. Revisions to existing articles are also done on the authors’ wiki, and when approved they become the current version at the public site. This process produces a constantly evolving, continuously updated reference.

The Commitment to Objectivity

In the interests of encouraging the broadest participation, of assisting people in making up their own minds about controversial issues, and of increasing the likelihood of articulating the whole truth about all subjects, the Encyclopedia of Earth adopts the following policies regarding neutrality and fairness.

  1. Neutrality. Encyclopedia of Earth articles shall, when touching upon any issue of controversy, be fair and insofar as possible neutral. Following are some examples of what is meant by neutrality in the Encyclopedia of Earth:
    • Controversy. The Encyclopedia of Earth recognizes two classes of controversy; scientific controversy and values controversy. Scientific controversy describes differences in opinion of scholars on the interpretation of scientific data. For example, the regional changes in weather caused by increases in greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is a subject of scientific controversy. Values controversy describes differences in opinion on values-based decision-making about the environment. For example, whether taking an action to preserve or protect an endangered species is worth the economic or societal costs of such actions is a values controversy.

      When touching upon any issue of controversy, the distinction between scientific and values controversy should be recognized, and every different view on a subject that attracts a significant portion of adherents shall be represented, with each such view and its arguments or evidence being expressed as fairly and sympathetically as possible. This entails, among other things, that:

      • No Advocacy. The Encyclopedia of Earth itself shall not advocate positions on environmental issues; it shall also be both non-partisan and non-sectarian.
      • Language. The Encyclopedia of Earth shall not use phraseology or tone that elevates or deprecates particular perspectives or people holding a particular perspective.
      • Dialectic. The Encyclopedia of Earth shall attempt, iteratively if necessary, to represent fairly and sympathetically the arguments of different disputants against each others’ positions.
    • Balance. Where there is a need to apportion limited space, space on areas of disagreement shall be apportioned roughly in proportion to their representation (1) among experts, when a dispute exists mainly among scholars; and (2) among the interested population, when a dispute exists mainly among the general population. When a dispute is equally a scholarly and a popular dispute, separate articles will be written to describe each dispute neutrally.
  2. Uncertainties and Assumptions. The Encyclopedia of Earth shall recognize uncertainties in data, interpretation, and understanding, as well as other reasons for different perspectives on a subject, such as assumptions made.
  3. Inclusion. As access to the broadest array of knowledge has many salutary effects, the Encyclopedia of Earth shall be strongly disposed to include rather than exclude content.
  4. Exclusion.
    • Harm. When some content both has no discernible and unique benefit to the advancement of knowledge, and has significant potential to harm the health or moral character of individuals, of human society at large, or of the environment, it may be excluded.
    • Broad consensus. To be grounds for exclusion, the harmful nature of some content must be affirmed, or likely to be affirmed, by the majority of the world’s population, regardless of political or religious views.
    • Examples. Paradigm examples of excluded content are bomb-making instructions, pornography, and Holocaust denial.

Policy on the Use of Content from Wikipedia

Authors, Topic Editors, the Stewardship Committee of the Environmental Information Coalition, and the International Advisory Board of the EoE have determined that Wikipedia contains some content that may be suitable for the EoE in terms of subject area, level of writing, and accuracy. The copyright associated with Wikipedia allows considerable freedom to re-use its content. There may be, therefore, instances where Wikipedia content—appropriately applied and reviewed—can be used in the EoE.

We allow Authors and Topic Editors to use content from Wikipedia when they write or edit an article, subject to the following conditions.

  1. Authors must limit their use of Wikipedia content to articles in their core areas of expertise.
  2. Authors and Topic Editors are expected to review and judge content from Wikipedia with a high level of scrutiny that is consistent with the overall editorial and quality control guidelines for the EoE that were described in the previous two sections.  This includes vetting content carefully for accuracy, clarity, objectivity, completeness and balance. Authors are expected to remove any inaccurate or misleading information, and to add additional content that would, in their opinion improve the quality of the article.
  3. Articles with Wikipedia content undergo the same review prior to publication as other EoE content.
  4. When Wikipedia content is used in an EoE article, that article is identified and attributed in accordance with EoE policy.  EoE Authors and Topic Editors who make contributions to an article that contains Wikipedia content are also identified in accordance with EoE policy.

The decision to allow use of Wikipedia was made after careful deliberation by the EoE’s Editorial Board, the International Advisory Board, the Stewardship Committee of the Environmental Information Coalition, and, most importantly after an open forum with Authors and Topic Editors.

The Connection to the Earth Portal

The Encyclopedia is a crosscutting component of the Earth Portal, a comprehensive resource for timely, objective, science-based information about the environment. It is a means for the global scientific community to come together to produce the first free, expert-driven, massively scaleable information resource on the environment, and to engage civil society in a public dialogue on the role of environmental issues in human affairs. It contains no commercial advertising and reaches a large global audience.

The Earth Portal has three components:

  1. The Encyclopedia of Earth
  2. The Earth Forum, with commentary from scholars and discussions with the general public.
  3. The Earth News, with news stories on environmental issues drawn from many sources.

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