[Taxacom] why Martin Fikacek resign

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Wed Oct 7 15:04:00 CDT 2015

I'm sure that people are playing right into Lyubo's hands by adding to the publicity about this (any publicity is good publicity!) Pensoft are a commercial publisher. I have pretty much given up on them as well, largely because Biodiversity Data Journal has now become little more than a venue for promotional papers, miles away from its initially stated philosophy.

Nevertheless, many of the reasons cited against describing new species from photos are quite unconvincing. Why is palaeontology considered to be science? An impression in rock, or a partly obscured amber inclusion are both on a par with a photograph, given that you can't see all the relevant characters, you can't dissect, and you can't extract DNA (most of the time).

It would be a very bad idea to describe a new species of hydrophilid beetle (Martin Fikacek's speciality) from photograph(s) of a live specimen, but this may not apply equally to other groups of organisms. Iterestingly, Fikacek does describe fossil hydrophilids!

One thing, however, that Marshall & Evenhuis did misinterpret from the Code relates to "Designation of an illustration of a single specimen as a holotype is to be treated as designation of the specimen illustrated". This is actually quite irrelevant! Designating a specimen as holotype via a photograph, is what Marshall & Evenhuis have done. This is very different from designating a photograph of a specimen as holotype! The above quote from the Code simply reduces the latter to the former, but that is irrelevant here.

As for Vratislav's P.S.: >If this will continue, anybody can create not just new species, but complete new family using just Photoshop.<

Anybody can and always could do effectively that anyway. Write a verbal description based on fictional characters, maybe add a few fanciful drawings, and conveniently claim the holotype to have been subsequently lost. Lost holotypes do not invalidate described taxa.


On Wed, 7/10/15, bayshark at exemail.com.au <bayshark at exemail.com.au> wrote:

 Subject: [Taxacom] why Martin Fikacek resign
 To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 Received: Wednesday, 7 October, 2015, 9:44 PM
 I just resigned for the position of editor in ZooKeys for
 two reasons: by
 the recent publication of a description of a new species
 based on photos
 ZooKeys evidently decided for the direction of "bad science
 and good
 publicity" which is the direction I cannot support. In
 addition, they
 recently introduced a new automatic system "bullying"
 editors, which now
 makes editors basically non-paid slaves with very limited
 decision power. I
 simply cannot work for such a journal anymore. Sorry to
 everybody, and
 thanks for years of author-editor cooperation.
 My letter to editors is attached below:  
 Dear editors,
 I was really shocked when I discovered the paper entitled
 "New species
 without dead bodies: a case for photobased descriptions,
 illustrated by a
 striking new species of Marleyimyia Hesse (Diptera,
 Bombyliidae) from South
 Africa" published few days ago in ZooKeys. The paper is
 exremely dangerous
 for several aspects:
 (1) It misuses the weak parts of the Code which were
 originally designed to
 keep some very old names valid, which were described in
 publications mostly in 18th century. In difference to what
 the authors are
 writing in the paper, this Article was not designed to solve
 the situation
 with lost holotypes, but to keep valid the names which were
 really based
 only on illustrations in times when no rules were given as
 it concerns the
 quality of taxonomic descriptions. Using the same Article
 for today is
 really ridiculous attempt to use this Article to cheat the
 system. Moreover,
 note the word "illustration" in the text of the Article
 (i.e. NOT a
 (2) It makes a very dangerous precedence for future
 generations. Now
 everybody may try to describe a new big insect (cetonid
 beetle, wasp,
 butterfly) based just on the photographs. I am sure good
 entomologists will
 not do that, or would at least do that only once all needed
 characters are
 really visible. Unfortunately the entomology is full of
 crazy individuals
 focused only in describing new taxa and producing new names,
 no need to give
 examples as everybody knows some of them. These individuals
 were difficult
 to deal with even until now, basically producing chaos in
 taxonomy of
 particular group and partly causing that taxonomy is often
 considered as
 non-scientific. You now opened a brand new way for these
 people how to do
 even worse work!
 (3) In my opinion neither the authors of the above paper,
 nor the editorial
 board is evidently not aware of the reason why voucher
 specimen (holotype)
 is needed when a species is describe. It is not because the
 author should
 have it easy to illustrate all needed characters. It it
 because only the
 specimen itself form a firm base for the name. All taxonomic
 identification of next specimens found etc. is in fact
 testing the
 hypothesis that the specimens in your hand are conspecific
 with the
 holotype.  To test that hypothesis, you may re-examine
 the holotype, extract
 new characters which were not stated or illustrated in the
 description etc. Testing the hypothesis and providing the
 way how to falsify
 it is what makes taxonomy a science! In case of the new
 South African
 species, nothing of this is possible - nobody will ever be
 able to test the
 hypothesis that the specimens in hand are conspecific with
 the holotype (and
 no other characters will be ever known than those
 illustrated on the
 photos). This basically moves this paper (and taxonomy in
 general) REALLY
 OUT OF SCIENCE. Hence, this is a step backward, not an
 innovative way as you
 present it.   
 I appreciate the effort of Pensoft and ZooKeys to try
 innovative ways of
 taxonomic publishing. However, I would expect that you would
 think about
 your steps and decision properly, evaluating the possible
 risks of such
 steps for the future of taxonomy. I did not notice anything
 like that in
 your actions and decisions within last months, including the
 publication of
 the above paper. Editorial board is never consulted in such
 cases, and if
 the editors provide their critique, this is rarely followed.
 In opposite,
 you recently introduced a system of "bullying" the editors.
 I understand all
 these actions in the way that editors are just workers you
 use FOR FREE (we
 are not paid for that), but never as partners with whom
 problematic things
 should be discussed.
 To sum up - by publishing the photo-based description of
 ZooKeys moves into the position of journals trying to break
 up the good
 practices in taxonomy for the sake of publicity. Its not
 only "the border of
 taxonomic malpractice", it is in fact the "border of
 non-science". I do not
 want to provide my time to the journal going in this really
 direction. That is why I am resigning immediatelly from the
 editorial board
 of ZooKeys.
 Thanks for understanding!
 With best regards
 (name) Vratislav Richard Eugene Maria John Baptist
 (surname) of Bejšák (read as a
 website: www.coleoptera.org
 address: P.O.Box 3335 , Redfern, NSW 2016
 phone : +61 0420602040
 alternate email: bayshark at ymail.com
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