[Taxacom] e-only taxonomic publication is safe & accessible

Francisco Welter-Schultes fwelter at gwdg.de
Wed Feb 10 18:04:06 CST 2010

A short comment on paper printing, and a reply to Frank's arguments.

Printing on paper is expensive. But it is still way much cheaper than it
had been for our colleagues 250 years ago.
The prices for printing on paper are stable, at least in Germany. They
have not increased in the past 10 years. I am a publisher myself (of
popular, not of scientific stuff). Today I give a PDF file to the printer,
this makes the printing process slightly cheaper than 10-12 years ago.
Sometimes scientists seem to argue that printing costs are increasing
dramatically. This is not my experience.

> However, look at it from the following perspective: E-only publication is
> happening.

I also think that this is a very important point. But publication of
scientific contents in internet websites without any garantee that the
websites will remain accessible for a few months is also happening. Much
is happening. There is no consensus where to draw the line. The basic line
is printed paper.

Changing the ICZN Code without consensus in the community? Would this mean
adapting the Code to the modern world? And make nomenclature more popular?

> Often, the user doesn't know or has no easy
> way to determine whether a pdf in hand has a hard-copy counterpart (an
> increasing number of interlibrary loans reach us as pdfs).

A crucial point. The core of a very important issue.
In the corporate AnimalBase comment published in BZN last year we proposed
to force journals to publish statements concerning the number of printed
paper copies, as an obligatory requirement for recognizing nomenclatural
acts and new names in zoology.
I have not seen any other proposal to solve this problem.

> For taxonomy, there is still a limited number of names that were published
> without paper backup. Yes, they are unavailable, but since some of them
> are high-profile, they enter the scientific record anyway.

In taxonomy we have the opportunity to take advantage of a 250-years long
history and experience, and a very likewise procedure has once happened in
this discipline.

In the early-mid 1800s many thousands of names had entered zoological
nomenclature and were attributed to authors who had not published a
description. High-profile names included. The names were regarded as
having been "published" on labels of museum specimens, which had been
available to all researchers. At least to all who were considered worth
talking of.

We can compare that situation very well with the one you were describing
For many decades these authorships were widely accepted. It was only in
the 1890s that zoologists suddenly decided to change the authorships (and
to attribute it to the person who had first published a description on
printed paper). They did not decide that the names should not be used,
they only decided that the authorships should be changed.
The high-profile names were not lost. The community found a solution to
save these names. The names, but not their authors.

This had the effect that in some disciplines more than 50 % of the names
had to be attributed to a different author. I know the situation in
malacology - there had been loud protests in the late 1800s against this
procedure because by the new rule, names were arbitrarily attributed to
any author who coincidentally published a short description (Pfeiffer,
Rossmässler, Charpentier, and others) for such a name, and malacologists
insisted that these authors had never intended and even would have refused
to gain authorship of the names of the taxa. Moreover, they had always
quoted the name of the "true" author (Parreyss, Ziegler, FĂ©russac,
Andrzejowski etc.) when they had mentioned such names.
They also argued (correctly!) that most original museum labels on which
those names had first been "published" by Parreyss, Ziegler and the others
were still extant and that only a minority of them was lost.

It did not help, the majority of names for European molluscs established
in the mid-1800s are today attributed to the author who arbitrarily
published its first description. 50-100 years later the original authors
and their fans had no influence any more in the zoological community.

In other words, Ziegler, Parreyss and the others were punished for not
having published on printed paper.

If new zoological names are published in e-only journals today and are
used, then there might with some likelyhood in 50-100 years come a
regulation that such a name should be attributed to the author who first
published a description on printed paper.

> rather than trying to convince the world that we
> taxonomists know better and insist in continuing paper as the only allowed
> publication medium?

We taxonomists have different requirements than other bioscientists. In no
other bioscientific discipline original copies of 400 years old
publications must be available. This is a very basic difference, and any
argument and measure concerning the definition of published work in the
ICZN Code must acknowledge it.
In the way you asked the question above, you neglected entirely this
special requirement.

I tend to agree with those who are convinced that the problem of long-term
archiving of e-only publications will probably be solved in the next 15 or
20 years. Probably.
But changing Art. 8 of the ICZN Code blindly in the present situation, is
something that I currently do not see as a very intelligent option.


University of Goettingen, Germany

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