validity of taxonomic publication

John McNeill johnm at ROM.ON.CA
Wed Feb 19 14:51:31 CST 1997

As Paul Johnson (19 Feb 97 at 13:39) has referred to the status of
theses under the Botanical Code with respect to "effective
publication" ("publication" in the ICZN & BioCode), I will risk
entering these muddy waters.  To remind newcomers, the issue started

>On 19 Feb 97 at 15:43, Wolfgang Wuster wrote:
>> On Wed, 19 Feb 1997, Peter Schuchert wrote:
>> > Is a PhD thesis a valid taxonomic publication (for animals)?
>> > I would say it is not, but other collegues disagree.
>> An unpublished PhD thesis is not a valid publication.  Article 9(11)
>> of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature specifically
>> excludes "deposit of a document (e.g., a thesis) in a collection
>> of documents, a library, or other archive".

Paul Johnson noted:

> Life in this little is a bit more complicated.  In the United States
> is a document service, University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan,
> that has conned our universities and colleges into having all
> doctoral and many M.S. theses "published."

and suggested, correctly I understand, that Art. 9 (11) was created
precisely to preclude these from being considered "published" under
the ICZN.  He goes on to say:

>      In my familiarity, there has not been adequate discussion and
>community-wide decision in the zoological sciences as to whether
>non-nomenclatural information in a thesis is acceptably published, or
>under what constraints.  However, UM considers their process as
>publication, and many professional categories do consider UM
>publication as valid.

I could not agree more that further consideration of this issue is
needed.  I see that the new ICZN retains Art. 9 (11) unaltered but has
a new paragraph (12) proscribing abstracts distributed separately as a
medium of publication under the ICZN.  I have great difficulty with
Art.9 (11), because, if taken literally, it would seem to rule out
publication in a scientific journal.  Surely, if a printed thesis is a
"document", so is each issue of a scientific journal, and such
"documents" are all deposited in libraries - ergo, publication in,
say, the Canadian Entomologist, is as much ruled out by Art. 9 (11) as
are published theses, clearly an absurd situation.  Maybe Philip Tubb
or Alessandro Minelli can enlighten me as to why one is a document and
the other is not?

And while they are at it, what about the theses submitted to many
Universities on the continent of Europe, which are required to be
printed and published (often in a journal) as a part of the thesis
defence/defense process.  Are these also proscribed under Art. 9 (11)?

>                      I'm not positive on my recollection, but did
>not the latest botanical code completely discount thesis information
>as published, or was this only nomenclatural data?

No, this is not the case.  Many botanists have no more taste for
having names published in theses, but given the nature of modern
technology and the emphasis in the Botanical Code on clear,
universally applicable rules, the present _de facto_ situation in
Botany treats most theses as effectively published.

The key Article is Art. 29.1:

"Publication is effected, under this _Code_, only by distribution of
printed matter (through sale, exchange or gift) to the general public
or at least to botanical institutions with libraries accessible to
botanists generally.   It is not effected by communication of new
names at a public meeting, by the placing of names in collections or
gardens open to the public, or by the issue of microfilm made from
manuscripts, type-scripts or other unpublished material".

Apart from Article 30, which deals with a few specific issues, largely
of the past, that is the rule.

What this means is that, whereas electronic media are ruled out,
anything that is "printed" (and that has to include laser-printed, and
indistinguishable offset therefrom) and distributed to at least two
botanical libraries (note the plural "libraries" in the Article) is
effectively published.  Therefore, nowadays, virtually every graduate
thesis is effectively published under the terms of this Article - so
long as the thesis is [laser -]printed and deposited in more than one
library "accessible to botanists generally".

The impossibility to-day of ensuring wide publication in terms of
technological criteria (e.g. "printing" as against "typing" as would
have applied in my graduate student days) is one reason for the move
towards "registration" of plant names (see Art. 32.1 & 32.2) -
ensuring that all new names are made available through a registration
centre - this is already done for all bacteriological names which must
be listed (if not primarily published) in the International Journal of
Systematic Bacteriology.

Criteria for publication are dealt with in Article 5 of the Draft
BioCode (see and suggests
permitting electronic media so long as "several identical, durable and
unalterable copies" are "generally accesible".

As drafted, this would include printed and distributed theses, but any
publication could be excluded from establishing names by a disclaimer
to the effect that "names or nomenclatural acts in it are not to be
considered for nomenclatural purposes" (Draft BioCode Art. 8.4).  The
ICZN has a similar provision in Art. 8 (b).  My personal view is that
anything that meets the "several identical, durable and unalterable
copies" criteria, theses, abstracts, whatever, should be accepted as
"published" - and those types of work that are of a "provisional"
nature (e.g. a first draft distributed to colleagues, or an undefended
theses) can be held back from publication by means of a disclaimer.

But these ARE muddy waters - the ICBN has an _ad hoc_ Committee on
Electronic Publication preparing a report to the next Congress in St.
Louis in 1999.

John McNeill

From: John McNeill, Director Emeritus, Royal Ontario Museum,
      100 Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2C6, Canada.
      Tel. and fax # 416-586-5744  e-mail: johnm at

Paul J. Johnson
Assist. Prof. & Curator
Insect Research Collection
South Dakota State University
(office): px53 at
(home): elater at
"Much of our usual appreciation of an animal
-- in any condition --
depends on our ability to identify and name it.
For flattened fauna, however, that can be a problem."
               R.M. Knutson (1987), "Flattened Fauna."

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