Electronic Publication of Original Descriptions

Stuart G. Poss sgposs at WHALE.ST.USM.EDU
Thu Mar 20 12:01:52 CST 1997

Although concept of spining disks, which provide knowldege of the past,
eerily reminds me of the Hollywood rendition of the H. G. Wells novel
"The Time Machine", I believe that Thomas Page has clearly identified a
solution to a number of problems associated with electronic publication
of taxononmic works.  Most importantly, the solution addresses one
problem identified by Joe Laferriere regarding the relative permanence
of the ORIGINAL text and a CERTAIN date associated with its publication.

A reading of the Scientific American article "Ensuring the Longevity of
Digital Documents" by Jeff Rothenberg (January 1995, pp. 42-47) makes it
clear that digital documents lack the permanence of paper ones.  One
must take into account the physical lifetime of the media, as well as
the time until the medium is obsolete. CD's are attractive because
relative to other electronic media their physical life is long (about 30
years) and the time until they are obsolete may be as long as 10-25
years.  Although one can not in practice separate the information stored
electronically from the format necessary to actually read it, both
physical lifetime and time until obsolescence issues could be addressed
by publication through "subsequent reproduction" in a variety of
formats.  This would have the advantage of making taxonomic literature
more widely available.  CD ROMS are sufficiently inexpensive that
multiple formats for text and graphics could be made available on the
same CD further insuring the relative availability of the publication.

Nonetheless, there remains a need for a mechanism to "officially" keep
track of what has been published to remove the potential for fraud or
"reproduction error", or "lost documents", which hardly exists
currently, because of the relative permanency and difficulty of
subsequent alteration of printed media.  Works printed on paper are good
for maybe 500-1000 years if printed on suitable materials and adequately
cared for.  Although CD ROM's are read only, it is in principle
relatively easy to make an altered copy that would indistinguishable
from the original.  However, we may be able to fall back on a little
old-fashioned printing of dates and distinctive markings directly on the
CD's to resolve most potential disputes, or through monitoring of filing
of ISBN requests or other sources.  We might also encourage publishers
to allow reproductions to be made by an acceptably "official registrar"
at some future date.

Perhaps, such "registry" or proof of "dissemination/publication" could
be best attended to by various societies, publishers, and existing
editorial and publication staff already engaged in such activities.  It
would only require an augmented effort to publish in "CD verions" as
well. Common registry at the journal level would permit the wholesale
copying and redistribution of full series when new media came into wide
use or proved econonically attractive.  They would also be best able to
incorporate new security verification procedures to authenticate digital
documents, should these be deemed necessary.  Reading (as opposed to
publication) of such documents via the Internet could be accomplished by
permitting subscribers password access or on-line publication of
abstracts only, if the various societies felt it desirable,  This should
reduce wholesale copyright violations that would upset the economic
viability and loss of control over the publication enterprise, while
retaining the ability of publishers to enforce their copyrights.
Electronic CD-ROM publication by societies and organizations, would also
have the advantage of assuring a more uniform level of quality to the
work disseminated.

Most of us would like to see electronic publications having the same
level of clarity, professional presentation, and peer review as
traditionally published media.  Although technically unecessary, this
would have the advantage of promoting the acceptance of electronic
publication as a valid medium for professional judgements ranging from
promotion, tenure, acclaim, public adoration, etc.  None of this would
preclude authors/publisher's from seeking their own ISBN number or other
mecahnism for CD publication.  However, many would want the advantage of
peer reviewed publication, as well as some institutional method to
insure the long-term permanency of one's taxonomic efforts.

In principle one could then take electonic publication directly onto the
Internet, if the ICZN or sufficiently "official" designated
intermediaries could establish a suitable means of registering and
archiving copies of original descriptions.  In any case, it would be
easy for the ICZN to keep an official list of publications.  Perhaps all
that is necessary for the ICZN to require that the full document be made
available to the ICZN or some suitable representative body or bodies for
periodic "reprinting" should this ever be necessary, if the taxon name
is to make it onto the "official list".  This would almost certainly
prevent an original description on electronic media from being lost,
since no one would be interested in proposing or using names that would
not be officially recognized.  Traditional publications could be
exempted, although the commission might want to revisit such an
exemption in another 500-1000 years, when many original printed texts
might also be "lost".

For those like me who are inclined to wax eloquent on esoteric taxa and
who generally tend to be wordy anyway, general acceptance of CD
publication would overcome the dearth of places to publish monographic
works, not to mention proivde a means to avoid from page charges.

Stuart Poss

Stuart G. Poss                       E-mail: sgposs at whale.st.usm.edu
Senior Ichthyologist & Curator       Tel: (601)872-4238
Gulf Coast Research Laboratory       FAX: (601)872-4204
P.O. Box 7000
Ocean Springs, MS  39566-7000

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