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

Dean Pentcheff pentcheff at gmail.com
Wed Feb 10 01:01:20 CST 2010

[Correction to last sentence of prior post, change "(now whether)" to
"(not whether)" -- should read:]

.... But if we want to help the world, we need to wrap our heads
around how (not whether) we will move to electronic publication.

[I stand by the rest of my rant.]

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

On Tue, Feb 9, 2010 at 9:02 PM, Dean Pentcheff <pentcheff at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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
> publications.
> 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
> --
> 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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