[Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

Thomas J Simonsen Thomas.simonsen at ualberta.ca
Thu Dec 11 19:41:21 CST 2008

Quoting "Richard Pyle" <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>:
> Billions of dollars and a few thousand human lifetime's worth of work are
> downright trivial compared with the information legacy of all human history
> (libraries), or the information legacy of 4 billion (ish) years of evolution
> (i.e., the collective global genome). Producing the "card-catalog" for the
> latter of these is the ultimate function of taxonomy.
This is a very valid argument for keeping libraries, but not  
necessarily for keeping *physical* libraries (at least not for new  

As I see it there are two aspects of this discussion (forgive me if I  
am repeating what someone else has said earlier):

#1. Do we currently have the infrastructure for all-electronic  
taxonomic publications?
#2. Will that infrastructure continue to exist in the centuries to  
come in a way that guarantees continual access to *all* such  
electronic publications?

If #1 is not met, then #2 becomes redundant. However, I think that  
most will agree that the current infrastructure for electronic  
publications (taxonomic and otherwise) is at least as good as the ones  
for paper publications.

#2 can again be divided into two separate issues:

#A. Can we assure that these publications will continue to exists in  
the future?
#B. Will the publications still be accessible (will we have the  
hardware/software needed to read them).

Again, if #A is not met, then #B becomes redundant, so I will address  
#A fist. Any predictions about the future can off course only be  
exactly that: predictions. And there is now way we can *guarantee*  
that electronic publications will continue to exists in the future any  
more than we can guarantee that paper publications will. But we can do  
our best to ensure that it happens. As I see it the solution is not  
one or two big, central electronic libraries where everything is  
stored. The solution is *a lot of big electronic libraries where  
everything is stored*. As it has been pointed out earlier, memory (at  
least the electronic kind) is very cheap. And there is in theory no  
reason why there can't be one (or several) global electronic libraries  
in each country. Even if one 50% of the earths countries would have  
such libraries it would still leave us with 90 of them (how many  
copies of most early 19th century publications are still around?). And  
if there are others like me out there additional copies will still  
exist on personal computers, external hard drives et.c. Lightning can  
strike (both literally and metaphorically - and it can hit ordinary  
libraries as well). But even if lightning strikes in the shape of an  
army of taxonomy-hating hackers, I doubt they will be able to get all  
libraries in such a situation. So I think it is reasonable to say that  
electronic publications are as safe as paper ones. So that leaves the  
final question: will the publications be accessible in the future. If  
we leave out an unexpected (or expected) breakdown of civilization, I  
think they will. It is true that software companies like to provide us  
with new, supposedly better, often more expensive, and generally not  
backward compatible versions of their products. But I think this works  
both ways. If there is a need and a demand for software that can read  
50+ year old documents, then that demand will be met. If not by the  
software companies, then by the scientific community itself. Much  
scientific software has been and is continuously being developed by  
scientists - not by Adobe, Microsoft and Apple. And though the future  
holds many uncertainties, I am convinced that trend will continue.

Just my 2 cents.

Thomas J. Simonsen, PhD, Post Doc
Department of Biological Sciences
Biological Sciences Centre
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T6G 2E9

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