[Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic , > publishing - what about types?

Rodolphe Rougerie rrougeri at uoguelph.ca
Fri Dec 5 10:54:29 CST 2008

Dear All,

I fully agree with the recent emphasis put by Jim on the content of the 
taxonomic paper and its access rather than its form and the "access to 
that form".
As a taxonomist, working on group of moths with a very very high 
contribution from the amateur community, with frequent insane 
competition resulting in a flurry of self-published journals (almost 
each taxonomists has his own journal now... quite a nightmare!), I have 
been first quite excited by the perspective of change possibly occurring 
through registration of names, e-publication and so on...

Definitely this amendment may offer interesting new options for the 
taxonomists, and it's worth discussing it... but I don't see there a 
solution to long lasting problems. If what's important is the content, 
then the code won't help much.
Let's get an actual example, I'm sure we all have plenty like this. 
Recently, a colleague and friend - amateur taxonomist  (by amateur I 
mean it's not his job... nothing else) - decided to get a little more 
freedom for his new species descriptions and to start printing his own 
publication medium, on his home-printer... he put an ISBN on it, claimed 
he sent it to major libraries (shall I double check if it's right, and 
if all printed versions are the exact same? I think I have a better 
usage of my time...), and he distributes it to his friends. I'm actually 
not sure if it reaches as well the "competitor" taxonomists... or ok, 
I'm sure it does not.
Obviously, a e-publication would allow easier retrieval of the 
publication through a search engine, and it may then be considered a 
progress as far as creation of your e-medium, by being easier, does not 
encourage this kind of practice.
Basically my point is that amendment or not, the problem is still here 
and taxonomic information will still be scattered, more or less easily 
accessible, and more or less reliable. The validity/availability of a 
name is ruled by the code, but it's quite little demanding as for the 
quality of the original description. So it's sometimes nice to be able 
to access the OD, sometimes it's useless... and the only thing useful to 
access whatever the quality of that OD, is the type specimens.
So to get back to the emphasis on  the  **content** of taxonomic 
publications, maybe there the final objects that should be considered 
are (1) the primary type, and (2) the nomenclatural acts. The latter are 
certainly tricky to manage properly because of priority rules, some 
subjective decisions that can or cannot be accepted by pairs, etc... but 
if only one thing should be really looked after and properly managed, 
it's the primary types. So should not we discussing that point? (again - 
I imagine it's been discussed well before I even know about the 
existence of a code, the existence of taxacom, etc...) I mean a way of 
improving access and registration of types.

Why not give to Museum or other major public Natural History 
institutions a central role (kind of gate keeper of taxonomy - sounds 
fairly legitimate to me) by having (at last) type depository made 
mandatory in these institutions; I know it's an old and long debate, but 
types represent the basis of any taxonomic act, and eventually any 
taxonomic decision/discussion refers to one... Maybe stricter rules for 
types and a clearer, more established and central role for Museum or 
affiliated institutions would ease further development of accessibility 
to related taxonomic information.
In the example above, if that taxonomist HAD to deposit the types of his 
new species into a Museum to have it valid, and if that museum should 
register the deposit as well as the act (reference to the publication), 
then centuries from now, the only very important thing that will have to 
be conserved is that registry (our beloved Zoological Record, both 
printed and e-accessible) not the original description... The registry 
will tell what, when, and where the type is supposed to be; if lost or 
destroyed, the code's been designed to handle it... Of course it's 
better if the OD's still available and good, but well maybe not quite 
the first of our problem. If the OD's poor, hazardously distributed (who 
really knows) as in the case mentioned, whatever the medium was paper or 
electronic and as far as the taxa in it are valid, I'm really more 
concerned about the types... luckily that guy's a friend, I have access 
to the types in his collection, at least for now.

Sorry to turn the discussion beyond that amendment, but that's 
personally where I would expect the most important changes for the 
future of the field, not that much into enabling or not e-publications. 
A central (mandatory) registry like Zoobank is a fantastic step forward 
IMO, a central role of Natural History institutions and mandatory 
deposit of types would also greatly help, and from there could radiate 
all of the nice and powerful opportunities offered by new technologies, 
databasing, use of unique identifiers, etc... Maybe it's too 
"liberticide" though... but is it as controversial as peer-review? I'm 
not sure...


Rodolphe Rougerie, PhD
Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding
Biodiversity Institute of Ontario
University of Guelph
579 Gordon street
Guelph, Ontario
N1G 2W1 Canada
Tel. 1-519-824-4120 ext 53800
Email: rrougeri at uoguelph.ca
The Barcode of Life Database (BoLD): http://www.boldsystems.org
All-Leps Barcode of life: http://www.lepbarcoding.org/

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