Taxonomists move 2.718 times faster than ICZN, neither move fast enough.
In May of 2008 I enthusiastically lauded PLoS ONE for publishing their first open access paper that described some new species of ants. It has been a year and half since then, have there been other taxonomists taking to this new concept of a completely online, open access forum for publishing new species?
Currently, only the journal Zootaxa has been very successful in focusing on online publication for taxonomy. In 2007, Zootaxa claimed 14% of the new species descriptions, hardly cornering the market but remains one of the most successful taxonomy outlets.
Zootaxa is not completely open access though. It is nice that taxonomist can publish freely there, but open access charges are $20 per page. This pales in comparison to standard open access charges from other journals with an OA option, which can range up to $5000! My point is that the only accessible articles from Zootaxa are still those paid for by authors and many taxonomists rarely have a $20 to spare. PLoS ONE charges $1250 to authors but makes all their works available online in high quality and maintains an easy to use web interface and database, keeps track of article-level metrics, offers waivers for those that cannot pay the entire fee and reaches a large segment of the population that aren’t taxonomists.
It is worth noting that currently, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the body that enforces the rules of naming animals, does not actually allow online only publishing. So papers published in PLoS ONE must be printed out and deposited in a permanent repository. Taxonomic articles are typically ascribed with a formal paragraph to denote this, such as:
“The electronic version of this document does not represent a published work according to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), and hence the nomenclatural acts contained in the electronic version are not available under that Code from the electronic edition. Therefore, a separate edition of this document was produced by a method that assures numerous identical and durable copies, and those copies were simultaneously obtainable (from the publication date noted on the first page of this article) for the purpose of providing a public and permanent scientific record, in accordance with Article 8.1 of the Code. The separate print-only edition is available on request from PLoS by sending a request to PLoS ONE, 185 Berry Street, Suite 3100, San Francisco, CA 94107, USA along with a check for $10 (to cover printing and postage) payable to “Public Library of Science”.”
This small step is harmless but is important in keeping in line with the Code. While the Code is voluntary, I do not know of any taxonomist who would risk being totally out of touch and ignoring the system. It is set up to facilitate species naming to avoid confusion further down the line or with previously named animals. In other words, it is there to make life easier to us, not as an Orwellian agency bent on subversion of all zoological taxonomists to its agenda. Thankfully though, an amendment is in review that may end this confusing and irrelevant detail, allowing electronic publishing of names in the elegantly named Article 8.5:
“184.108.40.206. widely accessible electronic copies with ﬁxed content and format
(e.g. PDF/A, ISO Standard 19005–1:2005) (see Article 8.5).
[A new Article 8.5 is added to address electronic works and add a requirement that
they be archived.]
8.5. Works issued and distributed electronically. To be considered published, a work
issued and distributed electronically must
8.5.1. have been issued after 2009,
8.5.2. state the date of publication in the work itself, and
8.5.3. be archived with an organization other than the publisher in a manner
compliant with ISO standard 14721:2003 for an Open Archive Infor-
mation System (OAIS), or the successors to that standard. (For
documentation of the location of the archive, see Article 10.9.2.1.)
220.127.116.11. The archiving organization’s website must provide a means to
determine which works are contained in the archive.
18.104.22.168. The archiving organization must have permanent or irrevocable
license to make the work accessible should the publisher no
longer do so.
22.214.171.124. If it is found that the work was not deposited in an archive within
one year after the work’s stated date of publication, or that after
the publisher or its successor no longer supports distribution of
a work it cannot be recovered from an archive, the case must be
referred to the Commission for a ruling on the availability of any
names and nomenclatural acts contained in the work.”
Support for the amendment should be tremendous, but who knows what some of these crotchety old fogies think. Change! Ack! I for one embrace my internet overlord. Should this get passed in the upcoming year, it will open the pathway for PLoS (or a similar publisher) to make a real contribution in this fundamental field. It is clear they have shown an interest and dabbled in taxonomy. Since May 2008, I have found 12 fantastic publications describing new species (listed below).
The emphasis of PLoS ONE on technical flawlessness will behoove taxonomists and encourage well written and laid out descriptions using the latest technology and high quality imagery, making these descriptions infinitely more useful than the one paragraph descriptions and poorly photocopied pdf files from interlibrary loan I have been working with from mid 1900′s and earlier.
If PLoS seeks to attract more taxonomic works, which I hope it does, it needs to make it easier for authors to know they can publish taxonomy there. A very useful and easy to implement solution is to offer a “new species” or “taxonomy” tag/category. Clicking on it should reveal the above papers and any I might have missed. While searching for the phrase “new species”, 7 hits were returned – none of which were new species descriptions. The phrase “nov sp” returned only 2 hits, both new species descriptions. I don’t remember how I got the other ones! While it may be premature to have an official “Subject Area”, PLoS Systematics has a nice ring to it. Twelve publications though, in the span of a year and a half is not too bad considering the breadth of subject areas they cover and their lack of emphasis on the subject matter. At over 149,000 page views for the above articles it is no laughing matter. I would love to know Zootaxa’s hit rate, I guarantee you it is much more over a longer period!
Mike Taylor also has some excellent commentary that I nearly entirely agree with on SV-POW! and also published an official comment on the amendment (pdf) in the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature.