[Taxacom] FW: ICZN procedure question

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Sat Nov 13 03:00:19 CST 2010

This is precisely the kind of thing that makes me saddest of all; a 
perfectly reasonable, respectable person who should be on our side, 
but has so completely missed the fundamental argument that they 
resist - and in doing so, may convince *others* to resist.

What on Colless wrote was:

>Since about 1967 I have danced from system or medium or format to 
>system or medium or format, to preserve my library of programmes - 
>usually successfully, with only inconsequential failures. Now I can 
>no longer run those programmes due to a changed system; but, being 
>long retired, I no longer care. My experience, however, makes me 
>very wary of entrusting crucial information of any kind, but 
>especially taxonomic, to e-text alone. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

What Don - and others like him - are describing is a COMPLETELY 
DIFFERENT SYSTEM from what Rich, I, and others are talking about. 
Don's story is not an object lesson, it is not an example, it doesn't 
even make for a good metaphor. It is, quite precisely, the same as 
the difference between a person who stores all their life savings 
under their mattress, when everyone else is putting their money in a 

Under the system we are describing, no scientist will be *personally* 
in charge of the maintenance of their data, just like those who 
submit data to GenBank are not; to try to maintain personal archives 
would make failure *inevitable*. Money kept under a mattress will 
eventually be lost, stolen or destroyed (it could even become 
obsolete and worthless, if the currency undergoes a radical change). 
Data kept in one's office, on one's own computer, on floppy disks or 
hard drives or CDs or whatever will eventually be lost, stolen, 
destroyed or become obsolete. The idea behind calling things genBANK 
and zooBANK should, one would hope, clue people in as to exactly this 
concept: once in the BANK, the resources are from that point on 
effectively IMMUNE to all these problems. It is an entirely different 
system, from the ground up. I know lots of people who almost never 
carry any cash on their person; they carry cards that link to an 
electronic archive in their bank. Why? Because that electronic 
archive of their assets is SAFER than any hard copy. And even if you 
do choose to carry cash, you still withdraw that cash from a bank 
rather than from a stash underneath your mattress!! (And if you or I 
look with disdain upon some fool who hides his life savings under a 
mattress, just think how the rest of the scientific community looks 
at *us* these days). If something happens to the bank, then the 
Government has copies of the archives and insures that all of one's 
assets are protected, and retrievable upon demand, in perpetuity.

Realistically, if you write a taxonomic work, whether it is novel 
descriptive work or a cataloguing effort, it should not exist only on 
*your* personal computer, or entrusted to some temporary storage 
medium - it should immediately be put in a *bank* where it will be 
safe and *permanent*. In plain fact, the safest system is if you were 
to *compose* your work such that the draft copy was already stored in 
the bank, and you simply accessed it and edited it remotely; then no 
calamity befalling you or your personal resources could in any way 
compromise what you had already done. That should not be *terrifying* 
to people - it should be inspiring them to demand such a system ASAP!

All these arguments about data decay, storage medium or software 
obsolescence, hardware failures, and such have absolutely ZERO 
relevance to what a centralized permanent archive is, or how it 
operates. A bank is a community resource, designed explicitly to 
serve the community by offering a more secure place for resources 
than ANY individual could possibly manage on their own. The people 
who deposit their data in GenBank can sleep soundly, while 
taxonomists risk their life's work by trusting their own personal 
computers and a few pieces of paper. And if Neal's gloomy scenario of 
a world without electricity and plastic comes to pass - whether in 
our lifetimes or not - the history of mankind's taxonomic research is 
going to be the absolute LAST thing mankind (if it survives) is going 
to need at that point, or weep over if lost.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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