Electronic publishing is inevitable and even the ICZN is beginning to accept it
October 1, 2009
After a completely barren 2008, this year is turning out to be a good one for me in terms of publications. Today sees the publication of Taylor (2009b), entitled Electronic publication of nomenclatural acts is inevitable, and will be accepted by the taxonomic community with or without the endorsement of the code — one of those papers where, if you’ve read the title, you can skip the rest of the paper. (Although on that score, my effort is knocked into a cocked hat by Hulke 1880.)
The message of the paper will be familiar to anyone who’s been following the Shiny Digital Future thread on this site; as indeed will parts of the text, as the paper is basically a more carefully worked and cohesive form of an argument that I’d previously spread across half a dozen blog posts, a similar number of emails on the ICZN mailing list and any number of comments on other people’s blogs. The sequence of section headings in the paper tells its own story:
And that conclusion reads as follows:
While we were looking the other way, the digital revolution has happened: everyone but the ICZN now accepts electronic publication. The Code is aﬀorded legitimacy by workers and journals only because it serves them; if we allow it to become anachronistic then they will desert it – or, at best, pick and choose, following only those provisions of the Code that suit them. Facing this reality, the Code has no realistic option but to change – to recognise electronic publishing as valid.
I have no detailed recommendations to make regarding the recently proposed amendments to the Code (ICZN, 2008). Instead I ask only this simple question: will the Code step up to the plate and regulate electronic publications as well as printed publications? Because this is the only question that remains open. Simply rejecting electronic publication is no longer a valid option.
Which I’m sure is familiar rhetoric to long-time SDF advocates, but which I hope will rattle a few cages in the more conservative ranks of specialist taxonomists. I think it’s a very promising sign that BZN, the official journal of the ICZN, is prepared to publish this kind of advocacy — they didn’t even ask me to tone down the language. I hope it indicates that in high places, they are sensing which way the wind is blowing.
Here’s a reminder of why electronic publishing is so desirable: figure 3 from Sereno et al.’s (2007) paper on the bizarre skull of the rebbachisaurid Nigersaurus:
Let me remind you that this was a paper about skulls — vertebrae were not even on the agenda. Yet click through the image (go on, you have to) and you will see them each presented in glorious high-resolution detail. That paper was of course published in the PLoS ONE — a journal that, because it is online only, can provide this quality of figure reproduction, which shames even the very best of printed journals. To see printed-on-paper figures this detailed and informative, you have to right back to Osborn and Mook (1921).
Which is why I recently decided to put my open-access money where my electronic-only mouth is, and submit the forthcoming Archbishop description to a PLoS journal. In response to a challenge from Andy Farke, I rather precipitately made a public commitment to do my level best to get that paper submitted this calendar year; and while that may not actually happen, having that goal out there can only help. Seeing that gorgeous quarry photo of Spinophorosaurus was what tipped me over the edge into wanting to use PLoS. My plan is to describe the living crap out of that bad boy, photograph every element from every direction and put the whole lot in the paper — make the paper as close as possible as a surrogate for the specimen itself. Only PLoS (to my knowledge) can do this.
(Of course, once you start wanting to include other kinds of information in your publications — videos, 3d models, etc. — then an electronic-only venue is literally your only option.)
I leave you with two photos of “Cervical P” of the Archbishop; commentary by Matt. These images are copyright the NHM since it’s their specimen.
- Hulke, J. W. 1880. Iguanodon Prestwichii, a new species from the Kimmeridge Clay, distinguished from I. Mantelli of the Wealden Formation in the S.E. of England and Isle of Wight by differences in the shape of the vertebral centra, by fewer than five sacral vertebrae, by the simpler character of its tooth-serrature, &c., founded on numerous fossil remains lately discovered at Cumnor, near Oxford. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 36:433-456. doi:10.1144/GSL.JGS.1880.036.01-04.36
- International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 2008. Proposed amendment of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature to expand and refine methods of publication. Zootaxa 1908: 57-67, Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 65(4): 265-275 and various other places.
- Osborn, H. F. and C. C. Mook. 1921. Camarasaurus, Amphicoelias and other sauropods of Cope. Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, n.s. 3: 247-387, and plates LX-LXXXV. [HUGE download, but totally worth it.]
- Sereno, Paul C., Jeffrey A. Wilson, Lawrence M. Witmer, John A. Whitlock, Abdoulaye Maga, Oumarou Ide and Timothy A. Rowe. 2007. Structural Extremes in a Cretaceous Dinosaur. PLoS ONE 2 (11): e1230 (9 pages). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001230
- Taylor, Michael P. 2009. Electronic publication of nomenclatural acts is inevitable, and will be accepted by the taxonomic community with or without the endorsement of the Code. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 66(3):205-214.