[Taxacom] In defense of DOIs

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Mon Feb 15 04:15:18 CST 2010

Dear Stephen,

In one of your recent posts (http://markmail.org/message/fokdb5ipl2th2b4k 
  ) you "applaud Zootaxa for not wanting to enter into the DOI money- 
go-round, which would have resulted in less new taxonomy being  
published due to more time/money being wasted on pointless beauracracy  

I'm as much against  pointless bureaucracy as anybody, but I'm not  
sure you are aware of the benefits DOIs bring to electronic  
publication. DOIs underpin stable citation linking in modern journals,  
and have several advantages over raw URLs.

1. Every time they changed web site technology there was a good chance  
URLs to articles would change, breaking existing links. DOIs hide this  
using indirection (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indirection ).

2. When publishers merge or are acquired (e.g., Wiley and Blackwell)  
the DOIs don't change, whereas the URLs to the articles do (publishers  
don't want their URLs "branded" with the names of former rivals that  
they have bought out). This means users can blissfully ignore who is  
publishing the content, the links "just work".

3. If the list of literature cited on an article web page use URLs,  
then a publisher is effectively branding their content with URLs to  
rival publishers. DOIs "hide" this, making linking much more palatable  
to publishers.

But the real benefits come from the services provided by CrossRef (http://www.crossref.org 
  )that underlie DOIs. For example,

1. Given a DOI I can retrieve details about the publication (e.g.,  
article title, journal, etc.). No more typing bibliographies. This  
service has spawned a whole ecosystem of bibliographic tools such as http://www.connotea.org 
,  http://citeulike.org, http://www.zotero.org, and http://www.mendeley.com 
  that make it easy to manage bibliographies online (these sites are  
also generating social networks of researchers on the back of this  

2. Given article metadata I can find the DOI (if it exists). This  
service enables publishers to convert lists of papers cited to  
actionable links. It also enables sites such as Wikipedia to  
automatically convert citations into clickable links.

But there is more. Given that when a publisher registers an article  
with CrossRef the publisher can submit a list of DOIs for the  
publications cited by that article, CrossRef can provide "forward  
linking", which means that for any article the publisher can list not  
only the papers cited, but who is citing that article.

Imagine an article in Nature that cites a publication in, say,  
Zootaxa. At the moment, the Nature article has no link to the Zotaxa  
paper. The reader has to Google the paper. Furthermore, once they find  
the Zootaxa paper, the reader has no information on who has cited that  
paper. If I was a Zootaxa author, I'd love to know what papers were  
citing my work.

I fully accept that DOIs add additional work load and cost to  
publication, and that these are not trivial considerations. But please  
don't dismiss DOIs as pointless bureaucracy. I'd argue DOIs have been  
an extraordinary success, and the academic publishing landscape would  
be a mess without them (or services that provided the same  

Lastly, imagine if we had similar services for the other things we  
care about, such as taxonomic names and specimens. Services that gave  
us metadata about these things, as well as told us how they are  
interrelated (e.g., this name was published in this article, this  
specimen is the holotype for this name, etc.). In other words,  
something like CrossRef for biology. This is why I'm in  biodiversity  
informatics -- I want a CrossRef for biodiversity.



Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Tel: +44 141 330 4778
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