thesis publications

Sun Mar 2 17:54:46 CST 1997

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

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

   "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

   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

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
JosephL at

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