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September 01, 2016

GEN Updates Biotechnology Dictionary

Reader Contributions Are Encouraged So We Can Compile an Even More Valuable Resource

  • Faith in the wisdom of crowds and even democracy itself has been shaken—not just by an unlikely presidential candidate or a disruptive referendum result, but by Boaty McBoatface, the most popular submission in a highly publicized name-our-ship contest. Alas, Boaty was scuttled by the contest’s organizers, who ultimately launched a more dignified name. But a meme—Blank·y McBlank·face—steamed full speed ahead. Still foundering in its wake is the idea that anything “crowdsourced” could have enduring value.

    Eager to recover this flotsam, GEN is launching an initiative of its own: the GEN Dictionary. This resource already comprises 100 definitions, the GEN editorial staff’s “Top 100” terms in biotechnology. The fitting-out of this resource will be left to GEN’s readers, who are invited to submit their own definitions (or improved versions of existing definitions) by emailing them to this address: [email protected] or send a tweet to @GENbio  using hashtag #GENDictionary.

    As proud as we are of our definitions, we know that our knowledge is severely limited compared to the knowledge that could be supplied by contributing readers. And so our hope is to stimulate reader contributions that we may compile into an ever-richer resource.

    This approach—partly directed, partly crowdsourced—is in the best “wisdom of crowds” tradition. According to James Surowiecki, the man who literally wrote the book on the subject, a wise crowd has four elements: diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and aggregation. The first three elements will be met by GEN’s readership. The last element, which amounts to a mechanism for turning private judgments into a collective decision, will be supplied by GEN’s editors.

    Unlike the boat-naming contest, which became top-heavy with Boaty McBoatface whimsy, the GEN Dictionary will be kept on an even keel. The initial definitions, we think you’ll agree, are shipshape. And since overhauled versions of the GEN Dictionary will continue to be freely available, all fitting-out operations will remain above board.

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