[Taxacom] CODE: Access to taxonomic names and descriptions

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Fri May 11 06:57:43 CDT 2007

In today's Nature (May 10, 2007) is a correspondence by Wheeler and Krell
requiring changes in the Codes of Zoological and Botanical Nomenclature to
assure that any new described species are immediately known to the universe.
For that they require

- First, require such registration before a name is formally available for

- Second, require full text descriptions of species to be deposited by
publishers or authors in a central, publicly open 'bank', free of charge,
such as will be provided by ZooBank for zoological names (A. Polaszek et al.
Bull. Zool. Nom. 62, 210-220; 2005).

- Third, require electronic publications to include a 'hot' link to these
banks of names and descriptions. This will ensure precision in reference to

The call for open access to systematic literature is not new, but coincides
this time with the annoucement of the Encylopedia of Life, which is building
very strongly on the published record. Within the Biodiversity Heritage
Library component, they plan to scan in the legacy publications. However,
there is a limitation to it: Only publications out of what they consider
copyright (75 years after the publication which should be in my view 75
years after the death of the author).

That does not give access the way Wheeler and Krell ask for, even if the
EOL/BHL team will negotiate with individual publishers to get access, nor
does it build on the open access movement green or gold road to open access.
Self archiving, increasingly required by research funding bodies (such as
the Swiss Science Foundation. Wellcome Trust, etc.) who singed the Berlin
Declaration is just one way to go.

It is especially sad to see, that EO Wilson, with all his star power (e.g.
used as spokesperson for EOL) still supports this main barrier to access to
our knowledge by supporting copyright of his own recent work, even though he
announced in Nature 424: (2003) "that the publisher is now putting the book
online. ", which is still not the case (For an illustration see

- We need to rethink our own behavior. We should change the Codes, that open
access to the publication is mandated, and with that that the species
descriptions can be discovered online. We need at least to self archive our
publications, not signing contracts with publishers which do not allow that.
- We need to convince the publishers that they enter taxonomic specific xml
elements marking up the names and the boundaries of descriptions at least
(using for example taxonx schema)
- We need to rethink the function of taxonomic publications: The future of
systematics will be in data matrices and other databases, from which data
can be extracted directly. Currently we need painfully extract information
from the legacy publications. This can be avoided if publications would be
instruments to control the input into these growing databases as well as to
announce in a human readable form that there are new additons to the
databases and matrices. It would already be sufficient, if we at least would
allow mark up in the current publications so a machine readable xml version
could be published at the same time the pdf comes out. PLOS-ONE is such an
example, although not yet for systematics.

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