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

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Tue Feb 9 23:23:19 CST 2010

Well, speaking again as a neutral on this particular debate, one might argue that the current situation is not just paper, but paper + electronic, which has to be safer than any one of those options alone. If there did happen to be some unforeseen Y2K bug mutant, then we would still have paper to fall back on! So it isn't really the advantages of electronic that need to be argued, but the disadvantages of paper, and the main one is that it is expensive. I don't think there is a significant environmental cost of using paper, as it doesn't have to be made from native trees in native forests - any old forestry plantation will do. Anyway, the tabloid newspapers and things would be more wasteful. So it all comes down to money - and the big question is this: if overheads are reduced by e-only, then what will the extra profits made by publishers be used for?

From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Dean Pentcheff [pentcheff at gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, 10 February 2010 6:02 p.m.
To: taxacom
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] e-only from Do rogue taxonomists need rogue      publishers?

I am not opposed to paper publications. I love books. Really. But
taxonomy will ensure its own demise-through-obscurity if we continue
insisting on paper-only.

I have to react when I keep reading that 20 physical copies (or 10 or
40 or whatever the count-of-the-week is) of a paper reprint makes the
content more secure in any conceivable way than does a substantive
digital repository for taxonomy.

Point one. Genbank. Fragile? What if funding were yanked? If that
worries you (and yes, I mean you reading this right now), then
download your own copy, just like thousands and thousands of people
and labs do: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Ftp . Do it. Now. The whole
thing. Not only are there formal mirrors all over the place, there are
more personal copies of the Genbank database in existence at any time
than the paper copies of most taxonomic publications all put together.

Point two. Readability? As in: "we can't even read early NASA tapes,
so why do we think we'll be able to read a Zootaxa article 50 years
from now"? The digital world has changed in the past decade.
Publications don't sit in tapes or shiny CDs on shelves any more.
Publications are kept in: (a) globally standard [de facto or de jure]
formats; and (b) on "live" storage on the net. They are continually
read and reread (and copied all over the place). Indexing requires
that they be machine-interpretable, so they are maintained that way
continually. Anything that doesn't "read" to the next generation
indexing routine gets migrated (in format) forward. That's not going
to stop. That is the qualitative change that makes digital data
readable in the future: it's no longer static.

Point three. Perpetual persistence? As in: "after nuclear winter/fall
of civilization/rapture, we must make sure that the survivors will be
able to read my treatment of the still-pending synonymy question in
taxon X". Here my level of sympathy pretty much goes rogue. Just how
detached from global reality are we? Trying to make taxonomic work
usefully available to prevent or alleviate human suffering and
environmental armageddon is worthwhile. That will happen
electronically, and only electronically. Refusing to embrace
well-managed electronic publication will cause systematists to waste
the little time, effort, and money we have on near-useless paper

If we want to keep gumming over our precious cotton-rag pages in
gentleman's clubs (private ones, since we are hardly getting
externally funded anymore), we can keep publishing paper. But if we
want to help the world, we need to wrap our heads around how (now
whether) we will move to electronic publication.

Dean Pentcheff
pentcheff at gmail.com
dpentch at nhm.org

On Tue, Feb 9, 2010 at 4:49 PM, Doug Yanega <dyanega at ucr.edu> wrote:
> 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.
> Sincerely,
> --
> 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)
>              http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
>   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
>         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82
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