[Taxacom] e-only from Do rogue taxonomists need rogue publishers?

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Tue Feb 9 19:03:33 CST 2010

I should say that I am fairly neutral on the e-only debate, so can explore both sides without getting heated:

there is one BIG difference between GenBank and "e-only", namely that GenBank was something new, not just a new way to do something old. The old addage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"! Paper publication works just fine, even better when supplemented by e-copies, so why abolish it? There needs to be a convincing reason...

on the other hand, data security issues don't clearly favour hard copies, provided there are multiple copies in either case. As I understand it, many texts were destroyed altogether by second world war bombs - hard copies tend to burn more readily than e-documents! Perhaps more of a potential problem is how easily e-docs could be faked, back dated, or otherwise tampered with? But even then, it isn't clear that e-docs are any more at risk...

From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Doug Yanega [dyanega at ucr.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, 10 February 2010 1:49 p.m.
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] e-only from Do rogue taxonomists need rogue publishers?

Pat LaFollette wrote:

>1. If the "economic meltdown" of the past couple years had turned
>into a full scale world wide economic collapse, do you think the
>"massive" funding provided to GenBank by NIH, etc., might have dried

First, an economic meltdown that serious would also result in
rioting, looting, and the burning of libraries. Back to square one
for print versions, too. And we'd all be trying to survive like the
rest of humanity, so who the heck would care, anyway? Would you lay
down your life to guard the doors of a library when it's below
freezing and there's nothing else to burn?

For that matter, anything LESS severe than anarchy, and what would
happen with GenBank is what would happen to us: people would have
digital copies, distributed around the world, of bits and pieces of
GenBank's data. Much of it could be reconstructed from all those
millions of copies of small pieces. There are NOT millions of copies
of *printed* taxonomic works; the odds of copies surviving a crisis
are *improved* if they are digital.

>2. Isn't the infrastructure of GenBank actually rather fragile, in
>that if considerable funds and labor are not continually invested in
>maintenance of the hardware and databases, the whole edifice would
>collapse in a matter of months?

Libraries require funding and maintenance, too - especially the ones
specialized enough to hold taxonomic literature. If the argument is
that individual taxonomists maintain reprint collections, bear in
mind that taxonomists ALSO maintain digital documents.

>3. Do you see an ongoing enthusiasm (similar to that for GenBank)
>for providing public funds in perpetuity to maintain permanent
>digital taxonomic literature repositories?
>GenBank and the taxonomic literature are different kinds of
>enterprises serving different constituencies and functions.  GenBank
>is an active, dynamic tool serving diverse disciplines and will
>continue to be funded so long as it is seen to serve a valued

Taxonomy is valuable, and serves diverse disciplines. Frankly, it
serves more disciplines than GenBank does. But the folks behind
GenBank perceived a need, conceived of a sales pitch, and
aggressively pursued it. However, the international taxonomic
community has never perceived a need, before now, of creating a
central authoritative repository for taxonomic information. When
taxonomists go around saying things like "I don't trust electronic
archives" and "We're better off with paper", then it's no surprise
that no one is offering to fund GenBank-like electronic archives for
taxonomy, is it? I seriously doubt there were many nay-sayers in the
gene-sequencing community who insisted that GenBank was a terrible
and scary idea, or insisted that everything had to be archived as a
print hard copy.

Bottom line: as long as taxonomists are vocally OPPOSED to electronic
archives, and not enthusiastically pushing FOR them, we're not likely
to get anywhere. "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

>  If those holding the purse strings perceive that to have changed,
>or it is superseded by other priorities, funding could diminish or
>stop.  I would not willingly choose that uncertainty for the
>permanent taxonomic record.  Linking its security to the whims of
>(potentially fickle) funding agencies is not the prudent course.

It's not the funding agencies that are the problem, it's that WE
aren't collectively supporting the endeavor. If we INSIST that we
can't function without it, then money will be found to support it.
You know the phrase "Too big to fail"? Well, that is *exactly* how
GenBank operates; it represents too much work, too much investment,
for too many people, from too many countries, for it to ever be
allowed to fail. It's a brilliant strategy for survival in an
economically-challenged world. A strategy we could emulate. Either
that, or convince the folks at GenBank to give our data a home in
their infrastructure.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82


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