[Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

tyler tyler.smith at mail.mcgill.ca
Thu Dec 4 15:09:58 CST 2008

Karl Magnacca writes:
 > On Thu, December 4, 2008 2:53 pm, Richard Pyle wrote:
 > > I strongly suspect that the three necessary ingredients (hardware,
 > > software, electricity) will persist as long as human society persists.
 > > File format issues are mostly a Red Herring.  That lesson has already
 > > been well-learned.  Bottom line: important e-documents, and the tools
 > > necessary to read them, will be carried forward.
 > This is my real problem with electronic publishing, and why I am opposed
 > to it (for now; I can be convinced otherwise).  I agree that the
 > documents themselves will be carried forward, but I don't think the file
 > format issue is a red herring, or that it's a lesson that's been
 > well-learned.  The big problem is that the de facto standard is pdf, a
 > proprietary format that can't be easily reverse-engineered to display
 > correctly if you have the file but not Acrobat(as far as I know; maybe
 > I'm wrong?)

I think you are, at least in part, wrong on this front. There are a
number of different pdf viewers available for Windows, Mac and Unix
platforms. They don't all support all the features that Adobe stuffs
into it's version of pdf, though. If we can agree on a sufficient
subset of features, it is entirely possible to produce pdf files that
will be readable into the future, with or without the ongoing
existence of Adobe.

That said, it would also be possible for Adobe, or any other software
company, to lure us into using some flashy, non-portable extension
that would effectively lock us out of our documents at the whim of
said company.

While we haven't yet fully addressed this issue, it is possible with
existing technology. I also believe it is essential, if we aren't
going to find ourselves stuck with ever-expanding back-catalogues of
papers that need to be laboriously translated from one format to the
next. Basic pdf will do for many things. I have had not problems
reading pdfs from any online journals with non-Adobe programs (filling
in forms and commenting on manuscripts is a different problem).
Postscript, open document format, plain text, html and others are
available. There's no need to demand the entire community standardize
on a single format, so long as all formats used for archiving
publications are fully documented and freely implementable without

(Digital restrictions management represents the most serious potential
restriction in this context, and we need to be careful not to let
ourselves get sucked into that cesspool for the sake of a few new
bells and whistles attached to our documents.
http://www.eff.org/issues/drm )

As far as lightning strikes etc. destroying electronic-only
publications, this is easily dealt with. If even just a few dozen
major libraries, herbaria, or museums established servers to mirror
each other's contents, we could rest assured that our electronic
documents are at least as secure as our paper libraries. I've recently
found a paper, published in 1989, that does not exist in any of my
local libraries, or even in the personal library of the author! Yet I
can still find usenet postings from that era, redundantly archived in
a number of locations.

I think this will inevitably be a big win for libraries. The cost of
running a server is a fraction of the subscription fee for a major

And if something should happen that causes the simultaneous loss of
all the servers at libraries around the world, chances are good that
nomenclatural priority will not be among our most pressing concerns. 

Anyways, that's my little rant on why open access, electronic
publishing is a good and inevitable thing.



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