[Taxacom] ICZN procedure question

Stephen Gaimari SGaimari at cdfa.ca.gov
Fri Nov 12 12:46:52 CST 2010

I haven't commented on this issue in a while, but my past comments on
this issue on Taxacom and ICZN list still stand, and have not been
addressed even close to my satisfaction, and I doubt to the satisfaction
of the body of the taxonomic community. It's the same thing over and
over and over, with a small vocal minority making noise. There are lots
of things in this thread worth specifically commenting on, but in the
interest of brevity I'll just make a few general comments. 

I very much doubt that the change to allowing e-only publications is as
well supported as some seem to think. In talking with taxonomists about
this over the last years, very few have agreed that paper copies should
not mandatory - no one objects to things being digitized - that's a
great thing - but the concept that digital be THE publication method is
roundly rejected in my experience. Yes, we are in a digital age,
something unprecedented over the last 250 years. However, the products
of the technology being used 250 years ago are still here. There are
still copies of Linnaeus 1758. And to make matters even better for
present-day taxonomists, there are lots of photocopies and PDF copies of
many of these old works, and people are digitizing information contained
in such works. In my opinion, here is the bottom line. There is NO WAY
we can even remotely expect that original copies of ANYTHING published
electronically-only to exist in 250 years. And there is no doubt at all
that when technologies are upgraded (and versions of works will need to
be upgraded, if there is money to do such things, to different files
types so they still exist at all), the works will no longer be in their
original form. Does anyone really think PDF will be still used in a
hundred years? It's ridiculous to even think it! And on the other hand,
there is no reason to expect that 500 year old copies of Linnaeus will
not still exist - these are published on a durable medium, and are
housed in libraries and personal collections. Electronic publications
are not a durable medium, period, regardless of their distribution.
Someone gave a good example of the various discs we all have from a
decade - a DECADE - ago that are now useless. This is a symptom of how
technology inherently goes. Sure, we may not need the information on
those useless discs today, but that is decidedly not the case for
taxonomic literature. We do need these publications to exist in the
longer term than technophilic taxonomists seem to believe. Not only
exist, but exist in their original form. Anyone suggesting that
e-publication is fine but there should be concurrent publication of hard
copies is de facto saying the same thing I am - there should be durable
original versions of taxonomic works containing nomenclatural acts,
regardless of what happens in the digital world. The digital versions
are just making the contents more widely available. 

The discussion of moving towards e-only publication reminds me an awful
lot of the phylocode discussions, with such rhetoric as the current Code
being voluntary, and people are going to ignore it and do what they want
to do, the current Code will be irrelevant to scientists if we don't
change with the times, blah blah blah. Well, I say that is hogwash.
There are some scientists who want to buck any system, and are willing
to step outside the boundaries and then expect that the rules will bend
to THEM. Well guess what - all those phylocode names, and those e-only
taxonomic publications are simply unavailable, no matter whether they
get press coverage. They may be present on the web, in various lists,
etc. - but in the end, they are unavailable, and it is no one else's
fault but the authors that their work will end up as an irrelevant
footnote in taxonomy. The Commission should not be kowtowing to a group
of people who think the way to change the rules is to just do whatever
the heck you want and make the rules change to retroactively accept
their work. The Commission should make the long-term health of the
nomenclatural aspect of taxonomy the real priority, and it is
disingenuous to say that the current push for e-only publication is
promoting nomenclature's long-term health - it is trying to satisfy a
short-term imaginary need.

Dr. Stephen D. Gaimari
Program Supervisor (Entomology)
Plant Pest Diagnostics Center
California Department of Food and Agriculture
3294 Meadowview Road
Sacramento, CA 95832, USA
Tel. 916-262-1131, Fax 916-262-1190
E-mail sgaimari at cdfa.ca.gov

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