[Taxacom] In defense of DOIs

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Mon Feb 15 16:46:20 CST 2010

Hi Rod,
I don't deny that DOIs are "useful", and indeed I use them on Wikispecies whenever possible, though to me they are useful primarily as links to publications, rather than as identifiers per se. The question though is whether they are useful ENOUGH to justify the huge expense? On that I (and notable others, as you know from the off-list discussion) am not so sure. Is it worthwhile for a publisher to do DOIs at the expense of taxonomic output? If Zootaxa could only publish say half of its current output with the added workload created by DOIs, would this be worthwhile? I would have more confidence in  DOIs as permanent links if they were independent of publishers, so a DOI actually linked to a page hosted by the DOI people, rather than to the publishers pages, and this could best be done with open access articles. Why should the publishers have to pay for DOIs when bioinformatics people are the ones who want the DOIs most? Just like the issue of all these global biodiversity databases - they are (perhaps) nice to have, but are they worth it? Do they facilitate more taxonomy, or do they compete with more taxonomy?

From: Roderic Page [r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk]
Sent: Monday, 15 February 2010 11:15 p.m.
Cc: Stephen Thorpe
Subject: In defense of DOIs

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
Fax: +44 141 330 2792
AIM: rodpage1962 at aim.com
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Twitter: http://twitter.com/rdmpage
Blog: http://iphylo.blogspot.com
Home page: http://taxonomy.zoology.gla.ac.uk/rod/rod.html

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