I only just realised … the draft Phylocode does not recognise electronic publication!

June 14, 2010

A comment by Charles Epting on the recent article about self-publication led me to check the relevant section of the draft Phylocode, which I’ve read once or twice before but not recently enough for this to have hit me with the force it ought:

From Chapter II. Publication, and specifically Article 4. Publication Requirements:

4.2. Publication, under this code, is defined as distribution of text (but not sound), with or without images. To qualify as published, works must be peer-reviewed, consist of numerous (at least 50 copies), simultaneously obtainable, identical, durable, and unalterable copies, some of which are distributed to major institutional libraries (in at least five countries on three continents) so that the work is generally accessible as a permanent public record to the scientific community, be it through sale or exchange or gift, and subject to the restrictions and qualifications in the present article.


4.3. The following do not qualify as publication: (a) dissemination of text or images solely through electronic communication networks (such as the Internet) or through storage media (such as CDs, diskettes, film, microfilm and microfiche) that require a special device to read.

I am … flabbergasted, if that’s the word I want.  (I always want to spell that with an “h” after the “g”.)  This language is obviously derived from what’s in the ICZN — for example, “must have been produced in an edition containing simultaneously obtainable copies by a method that assures numerous identical and durable copies” becomes “must consist of numerous (at least 50 copies), simultaneously obtainable, identical, durable, and unalterable copies”.

And the result is that, just like the ICZN, the draft Phylocode does not recognise electronic publication.

Just think about that.  It means that if you define a clade in most of the PLoS journals, it won’t count (unless the journal does one of its inkjet-and-staples special print runs for you).  It also means that any clades you define in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London will not count when the initial online article is published, but only when the later printed edition comes out.  In other words, it means that both the science journals that are growing most quickly in influence and prestige and the oldest science journal in the world will both be useless for phylogenetic nomenclature.

I am sure that’s not what the Phylocode authors want.

That’s particularly true in light of the code’s further requirement that in order to be valid, clade definitions need to be registered.  Really, once a name is officially registered in the Phylocode database and its definition is in a paper published by a reputable publisher and existing in thousands of bit-for-bit-identicial copies in every country in the world, what else is needed for stability?  Fifty stapled inkjet copies?

It seems particularly startling in light of the fact that even the notoriously slow-moving ICZN seems now to be recognising that electronic publishing is inevitable; it would be pretty horrible if by the time the Phylocode is finally implemented, the ICZN has accepted its electronic publishing amendment and the Phylocode is seen to be trailing behind the ICZN in recognising the reality of the world we live in.  (For anyone who is not yet convinced of that reality, I recommend *cough* Taylor 2009, which is a pleasantly easy read.)

Is it too late?  Can the Phylocode be fixed before it’s implemented?  Can it just be done, or will it need lengthy discussion first?  If this doesn’t get fixed, will anyone take the Phylocode seriously?  Is there even a serious argument for keeping the Article 4.2 language as it is now?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.  Does anyone else out there?

FIGURE 27. Proximal caudal vertebrae (FMNH PR 2209) of Rapetosaurus krausei in A, anterior view; B, posterior view; C, D, left lateral view. Abbreviations: posl, postspinal lamina; prsl, prespinal lamina; pozg, postzygapophysis. Scale bar equals 3 cm. (Curry Rogers 2009:fig. 27. I'm not sure what part C of this figure is doing here, since it's identical to the rightmost portion of part D. I don't just mean similar, I mean the identical photograph.)

In other news …

I am astounded at the lack of response to University of California vs. Nature, which seems to me just about the most significant thing that’s happened in the world of academic literature since, well, forever.  Can it really be that everyone else’s response is, and I quote, “meh”?


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14 Responses to “I only just realised … the draft Phylocode does not recognise electronic publication!”

  1. Heinrich Mallison Says:

    Why am I not surprised? I do hope the code gets fixed ASAP, without long debate. The solution is so freakin’ obvious, too.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Rowan, JP – Research Lab. JP – Research Lab said: I only just realised … the draft Phylocode does not recognise electronic publication!: A comment by Charles Epting… http://bit.ly/cA04Gk [...]

  3. I recall some discussion of this a few years back when this part of the code was being discussed on the phylocode mailing lists. For the most part, the text reads that simply providing the physical durable copies is necessary, but transmission in a primarily electronic format is permitted. Both PLoS and Pal.Elec. satisfy these criteria because they are not produced solely through digital means, but provide physical versions to libraries for permanent accessioning.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Jamie, how is that different from the ICZN rules? Either way, it amounts to the same thing: you have to pointlessly print out 50 copies of each published article in order for the “published”ness to stick. That’s just plain dumb.

  5. Zach Miller Says:

    Strange that PhyloCode, progressive as it is, wouldn’t remember electronic publication, which is experiencing a revolution.

    I’m not that up on the UC vs. Nature debate, but from what I’ve read, I’m in favor of UC and libraries in general. Nature can freaking suck it–it’s pretty clear that their bottom line is what they care about, not the science or the access or the students or the teachers or the public at large.

  6. Charles Epting Says:

    Wow, thanks for following up post on my comment :)
    What I don’t understand is that the paper/journal must be distributed in 5 countries, so why have the minimum number of copies so much higher? For online journals like the PLoS ones, they’d have to print fewer copies, but it would still be as widely distributed as before. I guess I just don’t get why it’s the arbitrary number 50 (it is arbitrary, isn’t it?).

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    Well Charles, you made an interesting and important point. It deserved to be brought out into the open.

    The minimum number of copies is a hangover from the days when paper was the only way to publish. The idea was to avoid having someone say that a work was “published” because they’d made three photocopies, then find twenty years later that they’ve all disappeared or been destroyed. Of course in these enlightened days of abundant zero-cost perfect copies, it’s a complete nonsense. (Maybe I will make 50 copies of my PDFs, just to be safe :-))

    Yes, 50 is arbitrary. Some people think it’s too many; others think it’s too few (IIRC, Francisco Welter-Schultz has recently argued in the BZN that the number should be 100 for ICZN-governed publication). But I’m not going to get sucked into arguing about the exact number, because I think the whole notion is just wrong-headed.

  8. Mike, that was what I was trying to get at. They read the same. The ICZN allows electronic publication by special action (a sub article), while the PC allows it by not requiring the format that “text” must take. It’s PC Art. 4.3 that seems to be the one that looks like it excludes electronic formats, but that seems only to read explicitly electronic ones, rather than electronic with print versions (like PLoS, PalElec, or Zootaxa). You and I agree (I think) that purely electronic formats should not be limited, but how do you ensure purity of the work? Mandatory use of uneditable PDF’s?

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    PLoS ONE does not have a print version; neither do many of the other PLoS journals. Neither does Palaeontologia Electronica (though it does have a CD-ROM version, which satisfies no-one).

    PLoS has got into a habit of appeasing the ICZN by inkjetting-and-stapling 50 copies of those papers that contain nomenclatural acts. They say those copies are available for purchase, and I guess it’s true, but I bet dollars to donuts that what really happens is they get shoved in a warehouse somewhere and forgotten, because who wants to buy a hardcopy of a freely available PDF?

    This is of course waste of everyone’s time and toner, and is done purely as an interrim box-checking exercise while PLoS waits for the ICZN to notice that it’s now the 21st Century. In fact, reading the letter of the articles, I wonder whether you could meet the requirements by printing 50 copies, sending 5 of them to libraries, and burning the other 45.

  10. RE: Nature vs. U Cal

    I’ve got our own library rep looking into what this means for the U Maryland system now or in the near future.

  11. 220mya Says:

    Mike – some of the PLoS journals do have print versions (e.g., PLoS Biology) – just not PLoS One.

    [Mike: thanks for the correction, Randy: I've fixed the relevant statement in the article now.]

  12. Mike,

    I am not sure how Zootaxa does it, but PalElec made a point originally of sending print versions of its work to the particular libraries it uses to satisfy ICZN worries. As noted, some PLoS do it as well. Accessing through these libraries will gain you print versions of most of these works. I am not sure what taxonomic works produced by PLoS do not have paper versions, but based on recent sentiments, if they do not, they may run aground of troubles.

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    Jaime: PE prints off copies to send to ten botanical libraries, because the ICBN does not recognise CD-ROMs as a valid medium of publication under any circumstances. As explained in Taylor (2009b), this may have the accidental side-effect of making those articles nomenclaturally valid under the ICZN as well, which is just as well as the PE CD-ROMs do not meet the strict requirements of the ICZN in that the articles therein do not state the libraries to which they have been distributed.

    I am now inclined to think that even that interpretation is too generous, and that PE is not validly published (for ICZN purposes) at all. The web version is obviously not counted, the CDs are invalid as explained above, and the printed copies are not “obtainable, when first issued, free of charge or by purchase” (Article 8.1.2) nor “produced in an edition containing simultaneously obtainable copies by a method that assures numerous identical and durable copies” (Article 8.1.3) unless you think ten copies are “numerous” — weight of historical interpretation (and consequently the explicit wording of the PhyloCode) suggests that 50 copies is widely considered to be the lower bound of “numerous” for these purposes.

    Which means that names such as Karongasaurus Gomani 2005 (from PE 8(1)) remain nomenclaturally invalid.

    None of this is in any way meant as a criticism of PE or of Gomani, or as an injunction to avoid using the name Karongasaurus. My point is the opposite: what this shows is that no-one cares about the ICZN’s dumb rules. We all use the name Karongasaurus perfectly happily, and it’s fully published in the only sense that matters, namely that anyone who wants to see the article can do so (much, more easily than they can see, say, the article that named Cetiosaurus). In short, to reiterate the message of Taylor (2009b): the rules are wrong.

  14. The very nature of a digital form exclusive of a paper form makes the coordination of 8.1.2 difficult in general. In this case, any taxonomy in PLoS-series journals would be simultaneously difficult: the paper form is used only for the satisfaction of 8.6. I am unaware of the simultaneity of Zootaxa issues: their site indicates they can prepare both, but does not mention that print is made at the time of digital publication (although they state digital publication is simultaneous with print), and thus avoid listing library-deposition, especially as paper prints of volumes are opt-in form of the works, and can be prepared at will by the author for reprints. This does not make the works simultaneous, in their view. It also seems to indicate they do not deposit their works in libraries (8.6 is for non-print works, only). If so, Zootaxa falls shy of 8.6, but would it be valid?

    I am wondering instead at a broad, rather than strict, reading for 8.1.2 in regards to 8.6:

    All digital copies of PalElec are obtainable, as they are in a permanent form, free or charged, at any time; this form being digital allows the code to exist in its original form at any time in the future (degradation holds for code as for print). Deposition of the physical forms allows them to be found (paper or digitally) regardless of their library-deposit as a form of “print at will” or “download at will” format. This would satisfy the simultaneity and accessibility clauses of 8.1.

    Am I reading this wrong?

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