Please welcome the ICBN to the 21st Century

July 20, 2011

This just in, forwarded to the ICZN mailing list by Donat Agosti:

At the Nomenclatur Section Meeting at the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne the decision passed, that e-only publications will be valid as of January 2012. The amendment passed by an overwhelming majority, well beyond the requested 60% yes vote.

This decision is contingent upon the confirmation by the IBC on Saturday July 30.

The language that passed is:

Article 29

Publication is effected (..) Publication is also effected by electronic distribution of material in Portable Document Format (PDF, see also Rec. 29A.0) in a on online serial journal with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). [no guarantee for the exact language]

An amendment to include 10 hard copies has been turned down.

In short, this means that if you work on plants, you will be able, starting in January, to name new species in electronic-only publications such as PLoS ONE and Palaeontologia Electronica — publications that are becoming increasingly important due to their openness and easy accessibility.

This is great news for botanists.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything (directly) for us zoologists.

Now is the time for the zoological code (ICZN) to follow suit!  I’ve argued before — in the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature, no less — that electronic publication of nomenclatural acts is inevitable, and will be accepted by the taxonomic community with or without the endorsement of the Code: the botanical Code’s whole-hearted endorsement of this reality is further evidence that the ICZN’s current only-paper-counts stance is untenable now that we all live in the Shiny Digital Future.

At the time of writing the ICZN is still considering an amendment to recognise electronic publication.  A draft amendment was published for comment in 2008, ultimately appearing in five journals (Zootaxa, African Invertebrates, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature, Journal of Crustacean Biology).  Since then, six subsequent issues of BZN have included discussions of the issue, but so far as I can tell there is still no agreed text of the proposed amendment, let alone an actual change in the code.  Since everyone else accepts electronic publication, the ICZN is in danger of making itself look anachonistic or even irrelevant.  That would be a disaster for zoology: our discipline needs an accepted, respected, relevant code.

The ICZN must move now!

Update (9pm, the same day)

The story is covered by Nature, in a well written article by Daniel Cressey.  Key quote: “Now the pressure is on zoologists to catch up with their botanical brethren”.


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