What are we going to do about Copyright?

Barbara Ertter ertter at UCJEPS.HERB.BERKELEY.EDU
Mon Nov 4 15:12:37 CST 1996

Using the humorous as the springboard for serious discussion, I certainly
agree with the various responses to my "bait" and enjoyed the fleshed-out
arguments.  Stephen Rae's response, however, triggers a tangent directly
related to the original "What do we do" discussion:

>If an author wants to retain publishing and use rights, use the trademark
>route.  Or, patent the entity (but, that can't be done because the entity
>wasn't created, but merely described).
>I would postulate that such a use would
>benefit the original author by providing professional recognition (ie,
>citation of a published work...credit.....what the faculty member wants for

Getting credit and recognition is most definitely the driving goal, and I
posit that a prime reason that taxonomists have faired poorly is because
our citation system pre-dates the currently accepted scientific norm.  The
oversight is inherent in Rae's comment that "the entity wasn't created, but
merely described".  The contribution of the alpha taxonomist is not in
creating the actual organisms that populate this planet [sideline: anymore
than political units can take credit for the biodiversity within their
borders; claiming intellectual property rights for wild genotypes may be
economically sensible, but it feeds the idea that all other lifeforms exist
only for humans, not for themselves].  Rather, the job of the alpha
taxonomist is to parse raw biodiversity into conceptually useful models,
abstractions based on such strictures as observed or inferred reproductive
isolation, common ancestry, and morphological distinctiveness.  Anyone who
claims (as too many do) that the formation of such abstractions is simply a
matter of "describing" something that is blatantly obvious is displaying a
lack of understanding of the actual process.  Taxonomists, like other
scientists, deal in hypotheses, which stand or fall depending on how well
they accurately model the (often bewildering) patterns of diversity in
which the biosphere manifests itself.

Upshot is that it's not the entity, but the concept (model, abstraction,
hypothesis, idea, circumscription, interpretation, whatever) that the alpha
taxonomist needs to receive credit for.  And this is where our current
citation system fails us.  We keep track of the person who initially
proposed a taxon and coined the Latin name tag, and, at least in botany,
the person who changed the status resulting in a new nomenclatural
combination.  We do a very poor job, however, at keeping track of who
reduced the name to synonymy or otherwise significantly changed the
circumscription, even tho these actions represent fundamental modifications
or challenges to previous hypotheses.  A simple reference to Rosa pinetorum
A. A. Heller, for example, fails to distinguish between the radically
different circumscriptions in Munz's flora of California vs. the the Jepson
Manual, and the responsible taxonomist's contribution to our (hopefully
improved) modeling of rose diversity is resultantly uncredited.  To the
extent that Literature Cited is used to determine the significance of a
researcher's publications, further credit is lost if even the
nomenclaturally relevant articles are cited only in the formal synonymy
paragraphs and omitted from the Literature Cited.

Dr. Barbara Ertter
ertter at ucjeps.herb.berkeley.edu
University and Jepson Herbaria
1001 VLSB #2465
University of California
Berkeley, CA  94720-2465 USA
FAX 510-643-5390

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