[Taxacom] Re; Botanical Plagiarism

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Mon Mar 11 18:48:43 CDT 2013

> Whoa... How did this one sneak in? Where did the institution get the
> specimen data for its collection? 

>From many, many different places -- which is why it's a mess, and why we
should dispense with that mess through a social norm that says specimen data
want to be free (to paraphrase a quote from a friend of mine).

> The institution didn't make up the data, so
> unless it did some substantial re-working of the data from the collector
or the
> donor or both, how can it claim copyright? Or is assigning a registration
> number to a specimen lot a copyrightable act of creative endeavour? Should
> explicitly claim copyright on the data on my specimen labels before I
> specimens in a collection?

I have said this before on this list, but will summarize again here.  I've
spent many, MANY hours engaged in all of the following roles:

1) Collector of specimens from nature
2) Museum collection technician
3) Taxonomist synthesizing and publishing information from collected
4) Database developer and content populator
5) Data aggregator.

The only role I have not personally played is that of publisher (although I
have done everything that a publisher does, including editing, proofing, and
full-blown layout for print-ready books).

>From my perspective, the REAL intellectual creativity (and the hardest and
most taxing work) belongs to the first of those roles (collector).  Except
for the odd patronym, most collectors are relegated to specimen labels,
footnotes and acknowledgements (or, sometimes, none of the above).

The role of the Museum collection should not be discounted.  Their job is in
some ways harder than that of the collector, because whereas the collector
puts a comparatively enormous amount of effort into each specimen, the
Museum collection must perpetuate the smaller amount of effort over a MUCH
longer period of time.  This commitment to the persistence of specimens is
what makes their role non-trivial, regardless of where the money comes from
(grants generally support the acquisition of specimens, but not so much the
long-term perpetuation of them).  Credit is often given through the Examined
Materials section.

In a distant third-place is the taxonomist, who synthesizes the information
gleaned from collected (and observed) specimens against what is already
known, and makes some sort of sense of it all through a new species
description or taxonomic revision.  Some conventions (e.g., authorship)
persist the credit for this intellectual contribution, but not consistently.

The last two roles are certainly not trivial, but they absolutely pale by
comparison to the others.  They *seem* like a lot of work and effort and
money, mostly because so far they have mostly been the labors-of-love of a
few dedicated individuals.  When so few people effectively dedicate their
entire professional lifetime's work to digitize so many different taxon
names (Linnaeus, Sherborn, Neave, Eschmeyer, Bolton, Guiry, and others),
those individuals should be applauded.  But their work -- even if an entire
professional lifetime -- is tiny compared to the collective lifetimes of
work conducted by the giants upon whose shoulders the databasers stand.
Without the efforts of those giants, there would be nothing to database.


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