[Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Fri Dec 5 02:11:43 CST 2008

There is another point about print vs electronic. Access.

Thanks to the very many hardcopies distributed all over the world, we do not
have a catalogue of all the nomenclatorial acts nor the current use of names
in taxonomy, it will take BHL to 2048 to digitize at current speed the
legacy data, and thus need another few generations until we have the chance
to complete the catalogue of the world's species.

We talk about 1.8M species described, ca 20K new species described per year
in over 1,000 journals an equivalent. And finally we ought to dream to
describe the other 9M unknown species. We talk about increasing number of
digital objects that go along with descriptions of species.

Clearly, print is not the way to go exclusively.

We clearly need a much more powerful medium to work efficiently. A medium
that can be discovered, a medium that allows links to external resources
such as digital repositories, genbank, etc., and a medium that can be
indexed automatically so we can maintain up to date lists of species/taxa.

Clearly, we need to be able to document what x meant, when she described a
new taxon. The best way to do so, is that the description is online
accessible - I would in fact make it a requirement in the next Code that new
nomenclatorial acts are valid if the underlying documents are online
discoverable and available. This allows everybody access to the baseline
data we create for well beyond taxonomy. It opens up our science, and allows
various access to the data that is not given by most of the >1K serials /
books with taxonomic content. Such copies can easily be distributed in many
archives, one of which ought to be the ICZN/Zoobank.

This raises a final question that needs be discussed: The sustainable
business model for Zoobank/ICZN. As it stands now, Zoobank is physically
close to a one man show (though a fantastic one), the ICZN secretariat has
no funding secured beyond little more than a year. So, when we talk about a
scientific field, we must make a huge effort to secure our infrastructure.
Sticking to print does a big disservice in a world that is electronic.
Nobody will fund an organization that is relying on finding prints from all
over the world - a system that proofed so far inefficient. We really need to
come up with a vision that is leading forwards. There are ways to go ahead,
like the use of domain specific XML, which also allows to derive pdf or
print for documenting and archiving.  If we propose to wait another hundred
years to see whether electronic signals disappear, we might as well close
the shop.

Finally, moving from print to open access e-publication is a very basic move
to democratize our science, ie open it up beyond the few priviledged with


-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Pyle
Sent: Friday, December 05, 2008 4:51 AM
To: 'Jim Croft'
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

I can't say for sure that I understand what Jim is on about, or even whether
or not he and I are in agreement on this issue.  But he did beat me to the
punch on something I wanted to say in response to a couple of earlier posts
on this thread.  Namely, we should not care about the presentation as much
as we should care about the information *content*.

Everybody uses PDFs now because, as Jim alludes to, they remind us of an
electronic version of the same thing we've always dealt with in the past
(i.e., paper).  If I had to guess, I suspect that PDF file resoution
software will be with us for a long time.  But that's not the point I was
trying to make.  I'd actually rather that we move away from PDFs, and get to
something much more fundamental in terms of electronic information storage
and longevity.  ASCII is still with us, and I imagine that UTF-8 will
probably have the same staying power as ASCII (indeed, ASCII is effectively
embedded within UTF-8).  Both of them are simply a standard protocol for
converting a sequence of binary signals (often referred to in the short-hand
as "ones and zeros") into the sorts of text character renderings that we are
used to looking at. Adding one more (but still fundamental) layer -- XML --
gives us a great deal of structuring power on top of the UTF-encoded text.

This is the context in which I meant the format issue is a red herring.  As
long as we have binary computers, we will also have at least ASCII, and very
likely also UTF-8 and XML.  And short of the complete collapse of
civilization, when we move beyond binary computers, there is no doubt in my
mind that there will be ample opportunity to translate the binary-encoded
information into whatever the next fundamental computer information system

The issue of "what's important" and what gets perpetuated is, in all
respects, the same for both electronically encoded information and
ink-on-paper information.  If books are important, they will be maintained
and cared-for and perpetuated in libararies. If e-documents are important,
they will be maintained and cared-for and perpetuated in electronic

I agree -- it's scary, because when all else fails, we can't hold a
hard-drive platter up towards the sun and read the 1's and 0's directly. But
we should also consider point #3 that I made in my original post on this
thread.  There is a great quote on the LOCKSS site:

"...let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from
the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such
a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of

- Thomas Jefferson, February 18, 1791

It is in this capacity -- the ability to quickly and cheaply produce "such a
multiplication of copies" -- that e-documents utterly blow the doors off of
paper (and especially stone-engraved) documents.  In the long run, I believe
that this attribute will dominate over the issues that place e-documents at
a disadvantage. But, of course, only time will tell.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jim Croft [mailto:jim.croft at gmail.com] 
> Sent: Friday, December 05, 2008 1:33 AM
> To: Richard Pyle
> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic 
> publishing
> So am I... well, sort of...  I have been reading this thread 
> with great interest and, morbid soul that I am, that heady 
> rising emotion associated with the dark pall of fear and 
> dread of inevitable doom and an eternity of pain and 
> suffering...  and I see before us a beckoning road of 
> taxonomic hell and information management perdition.
> With all the talk of formats and migration of important 
> documents (and who decides what is an 'important' document, 
> in what context, by what standards - a document that was 
> important in 1753, may still be important today, may cease be 
> important in 2053 but if someone decides it is 'important 
> again in 2353, we are screwed - but I digress...), I am 
> struck with an overwhelming impression that although we claim 
> to be looking to the future, we are actually looking at the past.
> Yea, I have seen seen the Face of Hell.... and it is us...
> The result of looking at and defining electronic publishing 
> as 'sort of like a book, only on a computer' is that we will 
> be doomed to a life of more of the same, only more 
> evanescent, and all we will produce is are fragile 
> repositories of electronic laminar wood pulp.
> What we have been talking about is the equivalent of looking 
> at that quintessential 'important document', the Rosetta 
> Stone, deciding it was indeed an important document, taking a 
> black and white photograph of it (because it is after all 
> black a white object), for security making black and white 
> prints of it and sending them to other institutions, for 
> convenience scanning the prints, converting the raw scan to a 
> TIFF, colourizing the TIFF to add value, converting to a GIF 
> for compactness, a JPEG to compress a little space, making a 
> JPEG2000 out of it because this is a better more flexible and 
> cool format, turning it into a PNG so that all browsers can 
> see it, making a PDF out of the PNG for compatibility with 
> what the libraries are doing, declaring victory and 
> proclaiming that henceforth the RAWGIFTIFFJPEG200PNGPDF 
> continuum is the eternal standard and all important new rocks 
> must now be created this way.
> What if we were to focus on the message rather than the 
> medium?  In taxonomy what is important?  The printed page or 
> the words on the page?
> What if we were to define electronic publishing not as 
> producing an electronic a document but as an attributed 
> fact/assertion or an attributed collection of 
> facts/assertions in the 'taxonomy database', where the 
> metadata standard is declared to be ASCII and the content of 
> all resources is described in this format?  So instead of 
> constantly migrating to a new format and a new technology, we 
> just ensure that whatever is presented is pushed back to the 
> foundation of text in a structured and controlled database.  
> (Go Standards! Go TDWG!)  And we retrofit all prior resources 
> into the same repository.  What if electronic publishing 
> becomes an act of not what it looks like but what it 
> contains?  Technology can (should!) be divorced from the 
> content and concentrate on what it does best - rendering 
> content to whatever formats may be appropriate in time and context.
> Future proofing is not about the latest and best 
> technologies.  It is about ridding ourselves of as much 
> technology as we possibly can..  Oh why has the enlightenment 
> of neo-luddism eluded us for so long?
> Yep - nothing like a bit of the old fear and dread to achieve 
> clarity of thought and mission focus... :)
> Repent comrades!  Lest you visit an eternity conversion and 
> endless migration in the wilderness upon your children and 
> the children of their children and the children of...  (you 
> get the picture...) ...
> jim (in the process of deciding whether to abandon hope at 
> Hades' Gates)
> ... and if PDF becomes part of of any electronic publishing 
> standard, I shall unleash the rumoured and feared internet TSDB
> (TaxonomyServiceDenialBot) that will bring Taxacom to its 
> knees.  You have been warned!
> On Fri, Dec 5, 2008 at 1:53 AM, Richard Pyle 
> <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:
> >
> > First of all, like Frank and Denis, I am absolutely 
> *delighted* to see 
> > this conversation happen on Taxacom.
> --
> _________________
> Jim Croft ~ jim.croft at gmail.com ~ +61-2-62509499
> "Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality."
> - Joseph Conrad, author (1857-1924)

Taxacom mailing list
Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu

More information about the Taxacom mailing list