NATURE to save taxonomy!

Bill Shear wshear at EMAIL.HSC.EDU
Fri Jun 7 12:46:09 CDT 2002

On 6/7/02 12:05 PM, "Eric Dunbar" <erdunbar at MAC.COM> wrote:

> With my cynical world view I have come to the conclusion that a sizeable
> minority of academics (taxonomists included, I'm sure) are comfortable with
> their role as keepers of the gate, and either for reasons of personal
> aggrandizement, or for fear of losing control (I repeat, pure cynical
> speculation) might prefer to have a dysfunctional information distribution
> system.

I think this drifts off the issue.  Taxonomists would love to have better
access to taxonomic information, and to share this with all concerned.
And, as Eric says, clearly the way to go is with electronic access.  But as
I said in my response to John, such access would require a lot of NEW WORK
of a type that most "wild frontier" taxonomists would prefer not to do,
except perhaps in their own specialty, and for which it is difficult to get
funding (funding = time).

What I and others are nervous about are 1) proposed wholesale revisions to
the way nomenclature is organized to respond to largely nonexistant
problems, and 2) regulation and registration of names by an entity outside
the taxonomic community.

This thread began with the note that Nature would require the deposition
with the Linnean Society of London preprints of any paper published in
Nature that named new taxa.  It remains totally unclear to me how this move
on the part of a journal, that, for all its importance, published a few
dozen new taxa in the last century, aids in the dissemination of taxonomic

For animals, the Zoological Record, and for plants, Index Kewensis, already
supply the service of creating lists of newly proposed names.  What's the
point of Nature's action?  Why not require that a preprint be sent to either
of those agencies, or the relevant microbiological one?

Responding to Eric's "conspiracy theory," when I was just getting started in
the systematics of several obscure groups of nevertheless ecologically
important arthropods, I was often approached by ecologists who had collected
large numbers of specimens they wanted identified.  Since this was a good
way to see a lot of material and learn a group, I readily agreed.   To my
dismay, my lists of determinations were often published, along with the
collection data, as THE ECOLOGY OF ________ OF __________.  Never once was I
offered a co-authorship of such a paper (though I had done a respectable
part of the work) and in a few instances, was not even thanked in the
acknowledgements.   When I began to routinely ask to be coauthor of any
papers arising from our joint enterprise, the flow of material gradually
dried up.  This could produce a certain reluctance to share one's expertise
with others.

Bill Shear

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