Undescribed species and the Internet

W.Wuster w.wuster at BANGOR.AC.UK
Tue May 21 08:24:28 CDT 2002

> I agree this is a real problem, but I see it as one that is relatively
> trivial in scale compared to the potential benefits of real-time data
> accessibility.  Problems of taxonomic "piracy" could be further mitigated by
> ensuring more robust negative professional consequences for those
> unscrupulous researchers who think they can improve their own legacy by
> stealing the discoveries of others.

This really depends on the kind of animals you are dealing with, and who
might want to "steal" them. If you are working on something pretty obscure,
it's unlikely to be a problem. However, with more high-profile taxa, where
there is extensive amateur interest, this can become a serious problem. In
herpetology, for instance, there are a number of serious amateurs who often
dabble in taxonomy. One or two of these individuals seem to routinely pinch
new species from professionals careless enough to talk about their ideas,
and then publish shoddy descriptions of them in amateur herpetoculture
magazines. Since minor niceties such as data gathering, analysis, and peer
review don't come into the equation, they can get the papers written and
published in a few months, whereas the rest of us need years. Since these
guys are amateurs publishing in amateur magazines (the equally amateur
editors of which probably feel privileged to get manuscripts containing
something as serious as - gasp - new species descriptions) aimed at
amateurs who do not know about the intricacies and ethics of real taxonomy,
sanctions against them are not exactly easy to impose.

Since the ICZN did not see fit to restrict the type of publication in which
new taxa can be described, this situation is unlikely to improve. I would
certainly advise caution in advertising new, undescribed species before
their formal description.



Dr. Wolfgang W├╝ster  -  Lecturer
School of Biological Sciences    Tel: +44 1248 382301
University of Wales              Fax: +44 1248 371644
Bangor LL57  2UW                 E-mail: w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk
Wales, UK                        http://sbsweb.bangor.ac.uk/

   Personal homepage: http://sbsweb.bangor.ac.uk/~bss166/

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