validity of taxonomic publication

John McNeill johnm at ROM.ON.CA
Mon Feb 24 09:29:55 CST 1997

On 21 February 1997, Melissa C. Winans responded to my description of
the criteria for "effective publication" under the botanical Code as

>Although the language of Art. 29.1 could indeed be interpreted as
>John McNeill suggests, I question whether that was in fact the
>writers intention.  When I was working for the Bibliography of Fossil
>Vertebrates we interpreted the similar language of the ICZN as
>meaning that to qualify as "published" a document must be **widely
>disseminated**, so that the majority of workers in the field will
>have easy access to the information.  The average journal is
>distributed to many thousands of individual libraries and
>subscribers, while a thesis generally is distributed only to members
>of the student's committee, one or two libraries on the campus of the
>university where it was written, and possibly to a few friends and
>colleagues.  This makes it unlikely that members of the scientific
>community at large will be aware of a thesis's existence.

Melissa Winans's implication that, where the provisions of the
International Code of Botanical Nomenclature require "interpretation",
the origins of the rule are important, is correct.  At least for the
ICBN (I cannot speak for the ICZN), this does not, however, extend to
issues on which the wording is clear.  Whatever Melissa Winans might
like the Code to say or whatever was her interpretation of "similar
language" in the ICZN, the ICBN is very clear: "... by distribution
... at least to botanical institutes with libraries accessible to
botanists generally".  There is no mention of "wide dissemination",
but institutes IS plural and so there must be at least TWO botanical
institutes involved.  To pick up from my recent reply to Robin Leach,
had my thesis been printed, it would have been effectively published
had I sent a copy to the Directors of the RBG Edinburgh and the RBG

Lest anyone think this is an idiosyncratic interpretation, I should
refer anyone still interested to the "definitive" analysis of the
problem by Dan Nicolson in the journal Taxon, some 10-15 years ago.  I
am writing this from home and do not have my copies of Taxon handy,
but I can provide the reference later to anyone interested.  The paper
is an analysis, in the form of a dichotomous key, of the requirements
for publication, and, as I remember, was a preliminary to the
development of the current wording of Arts. 29 & 30.

Although I generally hesitate to comment on the ICZN, I will take the
risk in this case because Melissa Winans refers to "similar language"
therein.  I find no similar language.  The matter is covered most
closely in Art. 8 (a)(3) where there is the requirement that the work
be produced "by a method that assures numerous identical copies". ,
Although one could argue as to how large a number constitutes
"numerous", this clause (to proscribe the one-off production by
University Microfilms) certainly requires more than two copies.  Taken
with Art. 8(a)(2) which specifies that "it must be obtainable, when
first issued, free of charge or by purchase", making it clear that
ANYONE must have been able to obtain a copy on request (whether by
gift or purchase), establishes that the distribution criteria for
publication under the ICZN are quite DISSIMILAR to those in the ICBN.

My earlier concern over the wording of Art. 9 (11), proscribing any
work ("document") that is deposited in a Library was not because I did
not understand what the clause was TRYING to say, which is,
presumably, that publication is not effected SOLELY by deposit in a
Library.  However, that is not what Art. 9 (11) actually says - it
covers all library deposition; moreover Art. 8 makes clear that the
exclusions in Art. 9 override Art. 8.  This is presumably just a
matter of bad drafting, which the new edition may still find time to

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

More information about the Taxacom mailing list