[Taxacom] ICZN procedure question

Jim Croft jim.croft at gmail.com
Fri Nov 12 01:07:22 CST 2010

A few decades ago, some guy in a plane, in all good faith believing he
was saving the world, dropped an incendiary bomb (or two) on the
Berlin Herbarium. Beyond the immediate human tragedy, thousands of
type specimens, many of them unicates, when up in smoke. Anyone who
has worked on the flora of New Guinea will know how difficult it is to
sort out the names of taxa without the existance of a type. This is
why New Guinea botanists collect so many duplicates and spread them so
widely - 'never again!'

Imagine if 'electronic-only publication' had been all the go back
then. It is conceivable that that we would now have a botanical
literature replete with names, but no types, no protologues and no way
or resurrecting either. Why would you ever design and implement such a
system for science?

You can't tell me it's all cool because we know what we are doing now.
Not a week goes by when we don't read of some cybercrime or some
cyberstuffup threatening or crippling government or industry somewhere
on the planet, and we have all had to wait at a counter while some
hapless attendant explains 'sorry, the computer is down'.  If
something is important enough to need to last *forever* (i.e. types,
protologues, and even later taxonomic treatments), surely we need to
provide it with belt, braces, elastic, saftey-pin and a length of

We are not talking about the collapse of civilization, although that
is a distinct possibility given current political trends, but about an
actively evolving technology that is inherently fragile, based on
moving parts, and worse still, based on other evolving technologies
with moving parts.  There is nothing robust or long term about it.

I am not saying don't embrace the opportunities offered.  Just make
sure we have a totally bombproof escape route.

It is not in place yet, but I would be suggesting very strongly to
maintainers of nomenclatural and taxonomic indices that when e-only
publication arrives, they print out and archive copies of their
reference material on archival paper and store it logically in a safe
place.  To not do so would be to build their databases on a foundation
of cards.

As for the last sentence, I will bet nearly every one has a floppy
disk lying around full of stuff created a decade or two ago, with a
program that no longer exists on hardware that can no longer be ground
but that's OK because we have moved on and those files aren't
important anymore? The problem for taxonomy is that 'those files' will
always be important... Forever...


On Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 3:01 PM, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:
> As a taxonomist, I am a strong supporter of moving towards e-publication and
> e-distribution of e-published information -- for all the obvious reasons.  I
> agree that paper-based information archiving has a much longer track record,
> but it's certainly not infallible. And I believe that, short of a the
> complete collapse of civilization (or at least the loss of affordable
> electricity), electronic archiving techniques will only continue to improve
> over time. The technology we have today doesn't have to last forever, it
> only needs to last long enough to be transferred to the next-generation
> electronic archive technology.  And anything that anyone with access to a
> computer uses WILL get transferred.

Jim Croft ~ jim.croft at gmail.com ~ +61-2-62509499 ~
'A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point
of doubtful sanity.'
 - Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

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