Electronic taxon data and publications+

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Sun Oct 29 14:55:07 CST 1995

Hugh D. Wilson stated:

>Given current efforts of those working with the Great Plains flora,
>it is likely that data relating to both taxonomic structure and
>distribution will be 'lifted' to the WWW.  This transition will open
>two options not available via traditional publication:
>1.  Immediate update/revision
>2.  Review by those not immediately responsible for the data that -
>if based on firm data - can produce an immediate, positive change
>I don't see any problem with *using* such a system.  The central
>challenge, from my point of view, is creating an interactive system
>that would allow increased resolution via input from the broader
>taxonomic community and immediate revision with new data.  The main
>problems in this new realm may relate to the traditional notion of
>'authority' - as applied to taxonomic opinion/turf/'ownership' - and
>the implementation of an interactive system that is based only on
>data of varying quality that can be supplied from the global

It seems to me the first of your "main problems" is a fundamental problem
here that the scientific community has not yet worked out; you imply,
essentially, that "immediate update/revision" will occur, and that would
mean such changes would be *unpublished*. It's one thing to propose that
any taxonomic publications be "registered" electronically, and another
entirely to propose that a taxonomic change made *only* electronically
should be considered valid. There are practical ramifications of such an
approach that much be answered first: to use a purely hypothetical example,
suppose I have convincing evidence that Asclepias viridis and A. incarnata
are subspecies of a single variable species, and submit this change to the
database. What does someone else cite when they wish to refer to this
synonymy? More to the point, I - and many potential contributors to this
interactive resource who are not tenured faculty - am being judged by
things like how many publications I produce, and how frequently those
publications are cited by others. If I do NOT produce a paper publication
treating this taxonomic change, I am essentially shooting myself in the
foot. But if I'm going to publish it on paper, I certainly can't submit the
change to the database until my paper is in print (because the presumption
is that the electronic version would have precedence, which would render a
paper version useless) - and what happens then if, say, another researcher
(or an unscrupulous reviewer of my manuscript) submits the same change
himself electronically before my paper is out?
        In essence, if you propose to allow electronic communications to be
recognized as valid publications, for purposes of priority and authority,
this will require a MAJOR change in how we, as a community, do business.
No, I don't think these problems are insurmountable - there are probably
some lessons to be learned, for example, from physicists and others who
routinely release electronic communications which are given formal
recognition, but this is not the *only* issue we would need to deal with.
We're a LONG way from a consensus, I think, and the number of possible
permutations that need to be dealt with (e.g., if I get a grant to do a
database of all specimens in the Illinois herbarium, and simply use
commerical software and have a technician enter the data, am *I* credited
with authorship? What is the date of publication?) would require - I
suspect - an authoritative publication along the lines of the International
Code in complexity. If there are no committees out there working on
questions such as these, then we're long overdue.
        My two cents,

Doug Yanega       Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA      phone (217) 244-6817, fax (217) 333-4949
 affiliate, Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Dept. of Entomology
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

More information about the Taxacom mailing list