thesis publications

Frederick J. Peabody fpeabody at SUNFLOWR.USD.EDU
Mon Mar 3 13:08:42 CST 1997


On Sun, 2 Mar 1997, JOSEPH E. LAFERRIERE wrote:

> Just to  see if  I understand  the system,  let me  give  two
> hypothetical scenarios  concerning descriptions  of new plant
> species, involving  two authors, Pamela  Anderson  and  Erika
> Eleniak.
>
> I. PAMELA.  Pamela is  an 8-year-old  girl whose  father is a
> botanist  at  a  small  college.  Being  an  intelligent  and
> inquisitive little girl, she always pays attention to how her
> father does his work.
>    One day,  Pamela is  visiting her  grandmother in  another
> town. She  sees a flower in her grandmother's garden she does
> not recognize.  She pulls one up and scotch-tapes it inside a
> notebook. She  then sits  at her  gransmother's computer  and
> types:
>
>    "Wow! You  should really  see this  neat flower my grandma
> has. I really like it a lot. It's got white flowers and fuzzy
> leaves shaped  like Czechovoslakia  [sic]. It  smells  crummy
> when you  squish the  leaves. Yuck!  But the flowers I really
> like. They  would be  really good  to give to grandma for her
> vase. I  think I'll  name it  Sesamum kermitii,  for my  idle
> [sic], Kermit  the Frog. My daddy says you need a description
> in Latin.  He teached  me "flos"  means "flower"  and "albus"
> means "white,"  so my  description is "Flos albus." I put the
> dry flower  on page  3 of  my Flintstones notebook and hid it
> next to  the blue towels in my grandma's linen closet. Please
> don't tell  my grandma. That's the type of flower I'm talking
> about."
>
>    Pam's uncle  Bob owns  a used  record shop.  Years ago, he
> bought a  100-year-old, non-electric  printing press. He paid
> $25 for it at a garage sale, mostly so he could print his own
> invoice forms  for his  shop. Pam  begs him  to please  print
> copies of her description of her new plant so she can give it
> to her  friends. Bob is very fond of his pretty little niece,
> so he  obliges, printing  25 copies,  folded into  a pamphlet
> entitled "The  nifty new  plant I  found at  Grandma's."  She
> gives most  of them  to her  friends at school, but she gives
> two to  her father. He is so impressed by his daughter's work
> that he  sticks one  in his  herarium library  and mails  the
> other to Kew Botanical Garden.
>
> II. ERIKA. Erika is a 25-year-old graduate student at a major
> university. She  is an obsessive workaholic, staying up until
> 1 am  every night,  then rising  at 7,  eating doughnuts  for
> breakfast as  she checks  her e-mail.  She works  hard at her
> degree for  seven years,  reading thousands  of articles  and
> pouring over  thousands of  specimens she  has borrowed  from
> dozens of herbaria all over the world. She obtains a doctoral
> dissertation grant  from the  National Science  Foundation so
> she can  travel to  West Kalimantan  to gather  new material.
> After a six-month wait (during which time she has to bribe 20
> government officials to obtain proper permission), she
> arrives in  the rainforest.  She treks through leech-infested
> mud, flees  charging  rhinos,  kills  a  few  dozen  venomous
> snakes, and  catches dysentery  three times. Once back at her
> university, she  takes thousands of SEM pictures and runs DNA
> sequencing  on   hundreds  of   specimens  to  gather  enough
> information to  finish her  cladistic analyses.  Finally, she
> feels confident  enough to recognize three new species in her
> dissertation, distinguishable  only by  the thickness  of the
> intine of the pollen grains.
>    Tragically,  Erika  dies  a  month  after  completing  her
> dissertation, from  the rare  strain of  cerebral malaria she
> contracted during  her fieldwork.  Thus her  new species  are
> never published in a journal.
>
>
> SO, now, Pamela's pamphlet  has  a  Latin description, a type
> designation, and  even an  indication of in which institution
> the type  is located  (call it "Grandma's Linen Museum"). The
> fact that  this  is  not  accessible  for  viewing  by  other
> botanists is  irrelevant under the current ICBN. She actually
> uses  the  word  "type,"  albeit  not  quite  correctly.  Her
> pamphlet was  printed on  a printing  press (not photocopied)
> and distributed to more than one herbarium. Actually, even if
> her father  had sent  the extra  copy to  the county  library
> instead of  Kew it would have sufficed in covering the ICBN's
> requirements  that  material  be  available  to  the  public,
> inasmuch as  the  library's  holdings  are  likely  available
> through Interlibrary  Loan. Hence  the name "Sesamum kermitii
> P. Anderson"  is  valid  and  legitimate,  and  even  if  the
> specimen in  her grandma's closet is lost, her name can still
> be  neotypified   using  anything   with  white  flowers  and
> pubescent,   czechoslovakiform    leaves.   Erika's    names,
> unfortunately, are  contained only  in her  theses,  lost  to
> science forever,  even though  copies are  available  through
> University Microfilm.  Even if  someone took incorporated her
> names in  a publication, the most credit poor Erika could get
> would be "E. Eleniak ex N. Eggert" or some such thing.
>    A dissertation is a lot of work. It is easy for people who
> completed their  own theses  years ago to forget this, but it
> is true.  Work such  as this should not be wasted or ignored.
> It should  be valued  as the  significant contribution it is.
> Indeed, I  believe that  no work  should be  wasted, not even
> little Pamela's.  Her comment  that the  leaves "smell crummy
> when squish[ed]"  may be  of some value to someone. 18th- and
> early  19th-Century  botanical  literature  is  replete  with
> descriptions not  much better  than Pamela's,  in  literature
> just as difficult to locate. Nobody has died as a result.
>    The complaints against consideration of either theses such
> as Erika's  or minor publications such as Pamela's seem to be
> twofold:
>
> 1) Difficulty of access to obscure literature, and
>
> 2) The fact that many names coined in them may be synonyms.
>
> The first  is becoming  less and  less of a problem given the
> growing   network    of   computerized   databases   alerting
> researchers  to   the  existance   and  location  of  printed
> material, and the advent of photocopiers and the Internet for
> sharing information.  The second  I  have  already  adressed.
> These may represent inconveniences for many in the field, but
> to say  that "Because  some information in theses and obscure
> publications is  useless, all  of it should be ignored" is to
> overlook a significant amount of valuable information.
>
> --
> Dr. Joseph E. Laferriere, 4717 E First St., Tucson AZ 85711 USA
> 520-326-4868
> JosephL at aztec.asu.edu

Being a plant taxonomy bibliophile I can agree with the sentiments
expressed here.  All botanical research needs to be considered, as long as
it fulfills the minimum rules.  We have to decide what the minimum rules
are and make sure that we do not permit access to botanical nomenclature
to be relegated to some elite group.  Obviously, this will cause some
inconvenience and even imprecision at times, but the benefits far outweigh
any of these.  Searching out the obscure reference, and once finding it,
treasuring it for its contribution to new knowledge is one of the joys of
botanical research.
f.j. peabody




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