Does Darwinius Exist?

By Carl Zimmer | May 20, 2009 1:33 pm

Darwinius has achieved the ultimate triumph of pop-culture consciousness, having become for the moment the background image on the main Google search page. But some of the commenters in my post yesterday on the head-slapping hype around this fossil pointed out something I thought deserving of its own post: Darwinius may not actually exist.

By this I mean that the name Darwinius may not be valid officially published. I first became aware of this from Nature editor Henry Gee’s twitterings. The problem has to do with the fact that the journal where Darwinius was pubished, PLOS One, is only online.

Today Martin Brazeau laid out some details here at the Loom, citing the International Committee on Zoological Nomenclature, which sets the rules for naming new species:

 …it isn’t named yet. This is starting to pop up in various comments now, surprisingly slowly, however.

According to ICZN:

Article 8.6 Works produced after 1999 by a method that does not employ printing on paper. For a work produced after 1999 by a method other than printing on paper to be accepted as published within the meaning of the Code, it must contain a statement that copies (in the form in which it is published) have been deposited in at least 5 major publicly accessible libraries which are identified by name in the work itself.

If, in fact, these conditions have not been met by this electronic publication, then “Darwinius” has not officially been published…

Larry Witmer of Miami Ohio University chimed in…

You’re absolutely right, Martin. Henry Gee (Nature) also has pointed to Article 8.6 (in a Facebook entry) and posted the link to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, for those that want to check out the rules: http://www.iczn.org/iczn/index.jsp. Article 8.6 is in Chapter 3.

The Code has a copyright of 1999, so one has to wonder how they’ll rule on online-only names, such as Darwinius. And Darwinius is only one of a growing number of cases. I’m sure the Commission is looking at the whole issue. In fact, maybe one benefit that may come from the unprecedented over-the-top attention given to “Ida” is that it may bring this whole taxonomic issue to the fore.

I’m part of a group that had been looking at PLoS ONE as a potential venue for our manuscript (mostly because of the ability to include more graphics and movies), but we decided against it for precisely this reason. Would the new name be valid?

While these rules may seem a bit esoteric to most people, taxonomists take them as seriously as a heart attack. I’ll be curious to see how this story develops. How strange would it be for the most famous fossil of the day to be rendered nameless.

Update: I asked John Hawks, the editor of the paper, and he deferred to the PLOS office. I’ve dropped an email with Michael Eisen, too. In the meantime, Hawks pointed me to this blog post, which may clear things up…or not.

Update #2: Michael Eisen, a co-founder of PLOS and a member of the board of directors, kindly left this comment:

In the past, PLoS has gone to great lengths to ensure that taxanomic papers published in PLoS One meet the ICZN standards. Last year PLoS One published a paper describing a revision of several ant genera.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001787

Cognizant of the ICZN standards, PLoS One ensured that print copies of the article were deposited in appropriate libraries. This was described explicitly in the paper.

In accordance with section 8.6 of the ICZN’s International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, we have deposited copies of this article at the following five publicly accessible libraries: Natural History Museum, London, UK; American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA; Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France; Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia; Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan. The three new species names established herein have been prospectively registered in ZooBank [6]–[8], the official online registration system for the ICZN. The ZooBank publication LSID (Life Science Identifier) for the new species described herein can be viewed through any standard web browser by appending the LSID to the prefix “http://zoobank.org/”.

As various people have pointed out, this language not appear in the Darwinius paper. I’m no expert on ICZN standards, and have to say that I think the print requirement is out of date, but it would appear that the omission of this language alone would disqualify the paper as an official taxonomic description.

I don’t know whether this was an oversight, or whether efforts were simply not made by the authors to conform to ICZN standards. I’ll let you know what the people at PLoS say about whether copies were deposited.

Update #3: I just got a new comment from Peter Binfield, the managing editor of PLOS One

PLoS is aware of the problem with the ICZN not recognizing species names that are announced in online only journals. The issue specifically relates to us being online-only (which more and more journals will become in the future) and therefore not conforming to Sect 8.6 of their code (http://www.iczn.org/iczn/index.jsp?article=8&nfv=true ) which states:

“8.6.  Works produced after 1999 by a method that does not employ printing on paper. For a work produced after 1999 by a method other than printing on paper to be accepted as published within the meaning of the Code, it must contain a statement that copies (in the form in which it is published) have been deposited in at least 5 major publicly accessible libraries which are identified by name in the work itself.”

The issue comes down to what is meant by “the form in which is it published” for an online-only title and therefore whether or not there is any point to including the statement about 5 libraries until the ICZN has made a determination on the topic.

There has been a lot of debate at ICZN on this topic (specifically how any online only journal can meet their code) but to date there has been no resolution. As the largest online-only journal in the world, this is obviously important to us and so we have been in active discussion with the ICZN (for some time) as to how we can conform.

It is worth noting that all our content is archived in several industry standard locations – PubMedCentral and LOCKSS (http://www.lockss.org/lockss/Home – which deposits an archive copy of every paper in hundreds of libraries worldwide, all named at: http://www.lockss.org/lockss/Libraries ) are two important examples, and we are in the process of being archived at the Royal Dutch Library (as well as being stored on the hard drives of millions of readers, due to our Open Access nature).

We make it clear to authors that publishing in any online only journal (of which PLoS ONE is just one example) is a problem as regards the ICZN recognition of a new taxonomic descriptions. The authors of this paper were aware of this problem but chose to publish the paper with us regardless (as have the authors of several other taxonomic papers published by PLOS ONE). We have also advised the authors to register their name at Zoobank.

Obviously we hope that this issue will be resolved sooner rather than later and that all these names will be recognized retrospectively. In order to make this happen we are actively investigating potential solutions with the ICZN (and have been for many months). Once ICZN has made a determination then we will correct the paper to reflect the approved practice and wording.

Peter Binfield

I’ve put in a few emails to officials at ICZN for comment. I’ll get back with a response from them as soon as I get one.

Update #4: Ugh! Over at Why Evolution Is True, Greg Mayer rightly points out that Darwinius has been published in paper form already: in the newspapers that ran stories before the PLOS One paper was published. As early as May 10, the Daily Mail had a piece. I’m wondering if this has ever happened before, and have newspapers ended up being cited as the original publication for other species names?

Update #5: The ICZN Executive Secretary has given me the official word. Read here for the details.

Update #6: Darwinius is now Darwinius.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Darwinius, Evolution

Comments (72)

  1. Carlie

    I would assume that PLoS would not accept any taxonomic papers unless they did indeed meet the 5 library print distribution requirement. To do otherwise would be completely irresponsible of the editorial staff at best, making fraudulent claims to the authors at worst.

  2. This would only add to the number of names already attributed to this fossil (as outlined in the paper itself). This whole thing looks like one godawful mess.

  3. I’m not sure there’s a question of validity at this point in time. The validity may not yet be compromised. However, the name isn’t yet considered published, and that’s the sticky issue. The problem of validity may arise as the name appears in the print media without a diagnosis.

    I agree with Larry: the high profile of this situation may have more people seriously debating this issue, which will only multiply in coming years.

  4. Alec

    The Code says in Article 8.6: “For a work produced after 1999 by a method other than printing on paper to be accepted as published within the meaning of the Code, it must contain a statement that copies (in the form in which it is published) have been deposited in at least 5 major publicly accessible libraries which are identified by name in the work itself“.

    I couldn’t find any such statement in the paper, so it seems clear that the names of the genus and species are not regarded as published under the Code.

    Article 9 would also seem to be a problem:

    Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 8, none of the following constitutes published work within the meaning of the Code:

    9.8. text or illustrations distributed by means of electronic signals (e.g. by means of the World Wide Web)”

  5. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Huhn. As a Web editor, I don’t really like this capricious, medium-biased rule. Can only imagine what @BoraZ will say.

  6. Sigmund

    Does that mean the name is still up for grabs?
    How about Hypeopotamus monki?

  7. Could Henry publish the name in the next issue of Nature, and get the credit? Historia plos Gee anyone?

    I agree with Carlie – someone at PLoS has screwed up. I would have expected them to know the ICZN rules by now.

  8. Carl asked me to weigh in here (as PLoS founder and member of the board).

    In the past, PLoS has gone to great lengths to ensure that taxanomic papers published in PLoS One meet the ICZN standards. Last year PLoS One published a paper describing a revision of several ant genera.

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001787

    Cognizant of the ICZN standards, PLoS One ensured that print copies of the article were deposited in appropriate libraries. This was described explicitly in the paper.

    In accordance with section 8.6 of the ICZN’s International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, we have deposited copies of this article at the following five publicly accessible libraries: Natural History Museum, London, UK; American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA; Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France; Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia; Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan. The three new species names established herein have been prospectively registered in ZooBank [6]–[8], the official online registration system for the ICZN. The ZooBank publication LSID (Life Science Identifier) for the new species described herein can be viewed through any standard web browser by appending the LSID to the prefix “http://zoobank.org/”.

    As various people have pointed out, this language not appear in the Darwinius paper. I’m no expert on ICZN standards, and have to say that I think the print requirement is out of date, but it would appear that the omission of this language alone would disqualify the paper as an official taxonomic description.

    I don’t know whether this was an oversight, or whether efforts were simply not made by the authors to conform to ICZN standards. I’ll let you know what the people at PLoS say about whether copies were deposited.

  9. I am the Managing Editor of PLoS ONE.

    PLoS is aware of the problem with the ICZN not recognizing species names that are announced in online only journals. The issue specifically relates to us being online-only (which more and more journals will become in the future) and therefore not conforming to Sect 8.6 of their code (http://www.iczn.org/iczn/index.jsp?article=8&nfv=true ) which states:

    “8.6. Works produced after 1999 by a method that does not employ printing on paper. For a work produced after 1999 by a method other than printing on paper to be accepted as published within the meaning of the Code, it must contain a statement that copies (in the form in which it is published) have been deposited in at least 5 major publicly accessible libraries which are identified by name in the work itself.”

    The issue comes down to what is meant by “the form in which is it published” for an online-only title and therefore whether or not there is any point to including the statement about 5 libraries until the ICZN has made a determination on the topic.

    There has been a lot of debate at ICZN on this topic (specifically how any online only journal can meet their code) but to date there has been no resolution. As the largest online-only journal in the world, this is obviously important to us and so we have been in active discussion with the ICZN (for some time) as to how we can conform.

    It is worth noting that all our content is archived in several industry standard locations – PubMedCentral and LOCKSS (http://www.lockss.org/lockss/Home – which deposits an archive copy of every paper in hundreds of libraries worldwide, all named at: http://www.lockss.org/lockss/Libraries ) are two important examples, and we are in the process of being archived at the Royal Dutch Library (as well as being stored on the hard drives of millions of readers, due to our Open Access nature).

    We make it clear to authors that publishing in any online only journal (of which PLoS ONE is just one example) is a problem as regards the ICZN recognition of a new taxonomic descriptions. The authors of this paper were aware of this problem but chose to publish the paper with us regardless (as have the authors of several other taxonomic papers published by PLOS ONE). We have also advised the authors to register their name at Zoobank.

    Obviously we hope that this issue will be resolved sooner rather than later and that all these names will be recognized retrospectively. In order to make this happen we are actively investigating potential solutions with the ICZN (and have been for many months). Once ICZN has made a determination then we will correct the paper to reflect the approved practice and wording.

    Peter Binfield

  10. Peter Binfield wrote:

    The issue comes down to what is meant by “the form in which is it published” for an online-only title and therefore whether or not there is any point to including the statement about 5 libraries until the ICZN has made a determination on the topic.

    But in this particular case, the issue comes down to the fact that this is not stipulated in the publication itself. That seems to be where the problem lies.

    That said, is there anything permanent in the world of online publication? One could always just slide it in with a notice. But is that the solution or is that the problem?

  11. Barry Roth

    Isn’t the simplest fix for PLoS to publish a second paper, identical with the first, but containing the essential language about hard copy being deposited in five institutions? That should be sufficient to establish availability of the taxon names Darwinius and Darwinius masillae. (It is availability, not validity, in the way those terms are used in the Code and in zoological nomenclature generally, that is at issue.) Future nomenclatural historians will shake their heads over the strangeness of two virtually identical publications, one establishing the available names and one not; but the general public, and end-users of the study in general, will not be much affected.

    Barry Roth

  12. This Darwinius paper is remarkable in how many oddities of science media it explores, exploits, and exposes.

  13. J Pardo

    I agree with Martin, here. The ICZN, for all its arcane requirements, is a document that exists to maintain consistency of taxonomic definitions and provide for long-term archival of these definitions in established collections of research literature.

    While it is clear that open-access electronic publication is a convenient high-volume way to share research with both the scientific community and the general public, there are problems with electronic publication that do require more serious consideration. One of these problems is the permanence of the published material. ICZN standards of publication exist to ensure permanence of taxonomic descriptions. A “paper trail” of taxonomic authority is much harder to erase or misplace if it is preserved in hard copy in numerous libraries worldwide, rather than a small number of online databases. As such, the medium [i]does[/i] matter when permanence is the critical issue.

    The debate should not be whether one medium is better than another. The debate should be over how to incorporate multiple media in a manner which best serves the needs of the scientific community. Situations like this, where the specimen becomes high-profile but where significant criticisms of the description have already been levied informally, underline the need to balance the joy of sharing exciting new finds with the need to maintain strict standards for repeatability and journal integrity. I have no doubt that PLoS can rise to this challenge.

  14. Maybe we need a PLoS Taxonomy – a journal that would both adhere rigorously to established naming practices, and work to update them for the modern age.

    This is well outside my field, so I’m sure others have dealt with this before, but it seems like the print requirements preclude the effective use of video, 3D imaging, etc… in official taxonomic descriptions, which is surely a bad thing.

  15. Paper rots. Web remains. Which one is more permanent again?

  16. PLoS Taxonomy or PLoS Systematics (more general) might work. But perhaps it could model the old PLoS format with some print volumes issued existing in parallel.

    Coturnix writes:

    Paper rots. Web remains. Which one is more permanent again?

    It is true that paper rots. It also burns, but the web has its own kinds of decay and vulnerability. These have different implications for the purposes and needs of taxonomy. As I note above, a solution to the immediate problem is simply to edit the existing article. This would be a kind of non-permanence of the original that can only be imparted by the electronic medium. The question is whether this is an advantage or a problem. As J Pardo points out, this should not descend into a debate of print vs. electronic. However, it should be debated with a clear consideration of the needs of the particular discipline.

  17. Three things:

    1. Names have been “accidentally” published; I can’t recall any cases involving newspapers, but I’d be surprised if there are none. To avoid this problem, sometimes names with brief descriptions are published in short papers, with a more complete treatment following. John Gould described Darwin’s finches in a very short paper in 1837 in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, and then a fuller account in the Zoology of the Beagle in 1839.

    2. Re paper vs. web: At a workshop I attended several years ago, Edward Tufte pointed to an original edition of one of Galileo’s books and said, “This is 400 years old; is your website going to be up next week?”

    3. I know of a case where a new species description was published defectively (the author’s name was left off the title page!), and the periodical immediately reprinted it with the error corrected.

  18. J Pardo

    Quoting Coturnix:

    Paper rots. Web remains. Which one is more permanent again?

    What makes you think that you are immune to malicious internet vandalism? Banks aren’t. The government isn’t. There are people out there who would find defacing a scientific paper with the words “I herd u liek mudkips” to be the epitome of topical humor (lulz) and have the computer experience to pull it of. Isn’t the integrity of your journal and of the scientific community in general important enough to prepare for such contingencies?

  19. cromercrox

    Bora is right – paper rots. But experience shows that it lasts a lot longer that computer formats. Biologists consult ink-on-paper records that date back decades, even centuries – but how easy is it for you to access that floppy diskette you formatted on your last computer but three?

    Above all, one must be pragmatic. The ICZN rules are antiquated, and people are working with them to change them, but in the meantime the rules is the rules, and they are there to be consistent and to avoid chaos. If it is the case that Darwinius has not been named according to the Code, the way is open for anyone else to redescribe the fossil in print, giving it a different name, and assert priority, and Darwinius will run the risk of becoming ‘suppressed’ as a name.

  20. Eric Meikle

    Carl wrote:

    I’m wondering if this has ever happened before, and have newspapers ended up being cited as the original publication for other species names?

    I don’t know about newspapers, but the name Australopithecus afarensis was first printed in a short news item in New Scientist while the “official” taxonomic publication was in press at Kirtlandia. This led to a controversy within paleoanthropology over the correct authorship and citation for this quite significant name.

  21. Quoting Coturnix:

    Paper rots. Web remains. Which one is more permanent again?

    The answer is paper, as can be confirmed by consulting any of the copies of Linnaeus C. 1758. Systema naturae. Regnum Animale. 10th ed. W. Engelmann, Lipsiae. distributed in some libraries around the world.

  22. The Code says a few things about accidental names, and the suitability of various print formats. Newspaper citations are usually regarded as trivial because they are not accompanied by meaningfull diagnoses. Some informal scientific publications e.g. Learned society newsletters carry disclaimers saying that nomenclature in their pages should NOT be considered as valid.

  23. Re paper rotting and web not… the Loom itself was obliterated just a week ago by a malcontent.

    [Carl: Actually, it was the article archive at http://carlzimmer.com and we’ll be getting it back up in a few days. But good point!]

  24. Re newspaper descriptions:

    If the name is unaccompanied by any description, it is a nomen nudum, and is not thereby made available. All the Code requires is a “purported” description (i.e. the authors needn’t be right), and I’m afraid the newspaper items fulfill this requirement nicely, including not just descriptions of the general appearance of Darwinius, but also differential characters to separate it from close relatives (nature of the incisors, absence of grooming toe), and illustrations.

  25. Barry Roth

    Away from my copy of the Code right now, but it does contain an article, early on as I recall, that requires a publication to have the intention of introducing a new taxon name, for a published name to become available. The article is in there specifically to guard against such inadvertent publication in news media, etc.

  26. Jason Anderson

    Coturnix Says:
    Paper rots. Web remains. Which one is more permanent again?

    I’ve already had one online supplement to a paper published in a prominent journal disappear from the internet because of a server change, and it is only 8 years old. Thank goodness for computers, they really make our lives easier (I’m old enough to remember searching the Citation Index in hard copy), but to argue it is more permanent is hand waving at this point.

    And what happens if Elsevier (or any of the other publishing houses) buys PLoS? Goodbye open access for one.

  27. Jason Anderson

    Carl asks:
    “I’m wondering if this has ever happened before, and have newspapers ended up being cited as the original publication for other species names?”

    Such a circumstance renders the name a nomen nudum.

  28. Lars Werdelin

    With regard to other examples:
    There was quite an issue just like this about the naming of Australopithecus afarensis back in the day. I don’t offhand remember the details, but as I recall the name was published in a newspaper article about the symposium where the taxon was first announced, this newspaper, of course being published well in advance of the formal publication of the name. However, I believe the newspaper article in the end either did not meet the requirements of the ICZN or was ruled invalid, I can’t remember which.

  29. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    As to newspapers the ICZN rules “8.1 A work must satisfy the following criteria:

    8.1.1. it must be issued for the purpose of providing a public and permanent scientific record,” and a newspaper has a quite different purpose,

    Otherwise, the matter is very simple: Barry Roth is right. There is only one short-term solution: a repeat of the publication of the article, but with the required passage added. That will constitute a new publication and will thereby establish the date of publication.

  30. I’ve recently had detailed dealings with the ICZN recently, having authored a petition to conserve the widely used species Cetiosaurus oxoniensis as the type species of the sauropod dinosaur genus Cetiosaurus. I can verify what others have said, here and elsewhere: that IRRESPECTIVE OF THE AUTHORS’ INTENTIONS, and IRRESPECTIVE OF WHETHER COPIES ARE DEPOSITED WITH LIBRARIES, the publication of the name Darwinius is not, in ICZN terms, a “valid nomenclatural act”, and thus the name is not “available” (i.e. not nomenclaturally valid).

    So what might happen?

    1. As Martin Brazeau points out, “a solution to the immediate problem is simply to edit the existing article. This would be a kind of non-permanence of the original that can only be imparted by the electronic medium. The question is whether this is an advantage or a problem.” That would definitely compound the problem, and is precisely the kind of impermanence of the electronic record that the Commission is so worried about it, and that makes it reluctant to accept electronic-only names.

    2. PLoS could publish a new article, identical to the existing one except for the inclusion of the mandated language describing the deposition of copies. That would be fine: the new article would be the nomenclatural authority for the name Darwinius, and would be cited in place of the existing one.

    3. The authors could publish a separate short paper elsewhere, in a print journal, formally naming Darwinius. That new paper would be the nomenclatural authority, which would be a shame because it would (presumably) not include the detailed descriptive work that makes the existing paper so valuable.

    4. Someone else might rush out a redescription in a print journal, and “scoop” the original authors by getting their nomenclaturally valid name into print first. This has been suggested as a good idea by commenters on some blogs, who feel that the original authors’ hyping of their work means that they don’t deserve the honour of naming the animal. This would be the WORST possible outcome: such nomenclatural scooping would be a wrong that would certainly not make a right. We know from the experience of Aetogate (http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/nm/) that such things do happen, and that the scoopers can escape without official sanction for their behaviour, but that doesn’t make it right.

    In the short term, solution #2 is probably best. An alternative would be to do nothing, and keep using the name Darwinius as though it were nomenclaturally valid; unfortunately, as long as the authors do it, they risk the kind of underhanded scooping described above as #4, and none of us really wants this thing to be called Rioarribasimia.

    As for a longer term solution: in 2004, Jerry Harris published a paper in the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature (61(3):138-148) describing how the ICZN could handle electronic publication. That proposal is freely available at http://cactus.dixie.edu/jharris/ICZN_and_DOIs.pdf and well worth reading.

  31. After reading the blog and comments I have come to the conclusion that there has been a lot of hype and frantic emphasis by media on this issue. I think that time is the essence and truth will be in front of us in the upcoming days. What do you say???

  32. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    There is a discussion paper out (at http://www.iczn.org/BZN%2066(1)%20Contributions%20to%20the%20discussion%20on%20electronic%20publication.pdf) on how the Code could be altered to handle electronic publication.

    However, that is for the future, and has no bearing on this case.

  33. Hi All – As Mike Taylor mentioned, I had previously proposed a means by which the ICZN could acknowledge online-only publishing as a valid medium for nomenclatural actions. As it turns out, they do not (yet, at least) seem to have adopted this particular solution, but they have been dealing with the concept. Oddly, none of the commenters here seem to be aware that the ICZN has recently emended their own code to try to accommodate online-only publications:

    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.

    (see also: Zhang, Z.-Q. 2008. Opening the door to electronic publication of zoological nomenclature and taxonomy. Zootaxa 1908:68.)

    I personally do not find this proposed solution entirely satisfactory (though I certainly applaud the fact that the ICZN is acknowledging the importance of the issue!). More immediately, to address some things others have brought up in this forum: as I discussed in the 2004 proposal Mike cited above, yes, paper has a demonstrated record for long-term relative stability, but it is not invulnerable. Simultaneously, the ‘net does not yet have a record of long-term stability — actually, some people could validly produce any number of instances where it has not been stable — but it has a much greater capability for widespread, instantaneous information distribution than paper does. It also has the ability to take older publications that are rare and difficult to obtain and make them available anew in digital form; there are any number of initiatives out there attempting to do just this. In these respects, the digital medium is clearly far superior to paper and has greater capacity to ensure that anyone can be aware of and/or access publications of any kind that contain nomenclatural actions, and I would think that the ICZN would embrace this.

    The issue is not whether or not online-only publication is a viable means of establishing and disseminating nomenclatural actions, but the issue of archiving. New electronic media are emerging nearly continuously that are touted as the ideals for long-term electronic archiving, and none of them have lasted very long. Anyone still using 5.25″ floppies? Bernoulli disks? Anyone even still have readers for these things? Even CD-ROMs seem to be on their way out in favor of DVDs, and DVDs are already being supplanted by Blu-ray. (Yes, Blu-ray readers can also read CD-ROMs and DVDs, but what happens when a new medium comes out that isn’t readable by this hardware?) That is, quite validly, the concern of the ICZN — stuff archived today in some format might not be readable by anyone in 10, 20, 50+ years.

    As others have argued, though, the ‘net is constructed in such a way that it would be very difficult to kill entirely — if PDFs (or whatever other format) disappear from one place, they are likely to still exist somewhere else. Among paleontologists, at any rate, there is a huge movement to quit accumulating massive libraries of paper reprints and copies and instead fill a hard drive or two with PDFs — not only does this make traveling to do research infinitely easier (not having to tote massive piles of paper around for reference!), but it also ensures that files are archived widely, though not by big, organized, central efforts like LOCKSS. A few peoples’ hard drives might fail and lose files, but hundreds of others still have them. Even if nuclear bombs went off widely and magnetic pulses massively wiped out magnetic media, I bet the files would survive in at least a few places (and movements to optical media would alleviate even this fear). In short, I think that archival issues are valid concerns, but I also think that they are being addressed adequately, even unwittingly, by the very scientists that are using the publications!

  34. @ Michael P. Taylor:

    Is solution #2 not simply a special case of solution #1?

  35. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    Is solution #2 not simply a special case of solution #1?

    No, but perhaps solution #1 is a special case of solution #2.

    Solution #2 is clean; the earlier publication is ignored (it does not exist for nomenclatural purposes), and the new publication is the one that counts.

    Solution #1 is messed up; it mostly establishes that electronic publication is not permanent and can be altered later, for whatever purpose happens to be convenient.

  36. Martin (#35), I agree with Paul’s (#36) assessment of solutions #1 and #2. I think that #1 would be a disaster for stability: if the PLoS people were to do this, then the ICZN’s reaction would likely be to retrench further against the possibility of electronic-only publication. Whatever solution is eventually reached on this broader issue, is MUST ensure that an paper, once published, is fixed in the published form forever — once you allow the rewriting 0f history, no-one knows where he stands any more.

    Jerry, I’m aware of the proposed emendation to the Code, but unless something’s happened that I missed (which seems unlikely given the flood of ICZN-related email I plough through every week!) that’s all it is — a proposal.

  37. OK, this so blatant. The editors at Nature are simply jealous that the researchers choose PLoS One. Plain and simple. This is scientific politics at its worst. Frankly, these type of accusations are grotesque. This is a classicism game coming from editors shaking in their boots as they see the populist New Media marching over them.

    Hoooey!

  38. Unless I am mistaken, a nomen nudem pertains to a name without a description. Here we have a name with a description, it is just not validly published.
    An instructive case concerns a polychaete “described” by Fred Pleijel (1999. Systematic Biology 48, 755-789; 2000, Bull. Marine Sci. 67, 671). Fred gave a PhyloCode uninomen to a worm in a manner that clearly violated article Article 11.4 of the code by not applying a binomen for a species-level taxon. He did this intentionally as a challenge to the Code.
    Jyrki Muona in 2006 (see http://research.amnh.org/molecular/Resources/Papers/january_2007/Muona06.pdf) then provided a proper description for the worm “Heteropodarke pleijeli” such that there would be a valid name. According to the Code, the latter is the valid description. In it, Jyrki provided a description by ostentation: “A most detailed description is provided in Pleijel (2000, pp. 768–770)”.
    Similarly, Croatobranchus mestrovi, a name for a Croatian cave leech, was invalidly published in a spelunking journal, Speleologija. The name was “made available” by Sket et al. (2001, Zoologica Scripta 30, 223–229) who nonetheless indicated that the taxonomic authorities were Kerovec, Kučinić et Jalžić, 1999, not Sket et al., 2001.
    The near term solution is a validly published name wherein the “Description” section points-to the PlosONE paper.
    The longer term solution is for editors and reviewers for Plos to get their act together and prevent this from happening as part of the review process. Oh wait… this was PlosONE right… never mind.

  39. Mark, my comment about nomen nudum isn’t with respect to the work published in PLoSONE. I (and a previous commenter whom I missed last night) were speaking of the publication of the name in the print media before the description was released. So two different issues are at play simultaneously:

    1) the newspaper articles printing the name render the name a nomen nudum

    2) the lack of commentary in the PLoSONE article about the archival of hardcopies in 5 museums means the name in the article was improperly published.

    I have a hard time seeing this name surviving these challenges.

    I have to confess, I like your solution by ostension.

  40. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    @39 “The near term solution is a validly published name wherein the “Description” section points-to the PlosONE paper.”

    No, that would not work, as Art. 8.6 makes it clear that the PlosOne paper is not published in the sense of the Code. It does not exist and thus cannot pointed to.

    @40 “1) the newspaper articles printing the name render the name a nomen nudum”. As I read Art. 8.1 anything published in a newspaper does not exist either (for nomenclatural purposes), so: no.

    @40 “2) the lack of commentary in the PLoSONE article about the archival of hardcopies in 5 museums means the name in the article was improperly published.’ No, the PLoSONE article was not published at all (see above), and this goes for anything in the article.

  41. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating #1 at all. I agree that it would be disastrous and I understand precisely why. That was my point. However, I don’t see cases #1 and #2 as really all that different if one considers more than just the taxonomic issues.

    If a printed paper fails to meet the requirements of a nomenclatural act, do we re-print an identical one with the appropriate matter added, or the offending matter deleted? Why is this practice suddenly a permissible a solution in the electronic forum but not in print? What are we saying about the electronic medium here which we’re not explicitly acknowledging?

    In both cases, we’re left with simultaneously existing copies of the original article. In #2, these are both held in the PLoS ONE archive. In #1, one is in the PLoS archive, the other is cached in various places, saved as a PDF, or printed out and placed in reprint libraries. In #2, the original article is far more accessible, of course. However, it will still have to be altered to acknowledge the existence of another, nearly identical article with important matter added.

    Here’s the catch: plagiarism. A duplicate publication would still have to be suppressed, de-indexed, altered to acknowledge its successor, and generally disowned by the authors in order to circumvent ethical issues unrelated to taxonomy. In other words, we have to treat the previous publication as though it doesn’t exist. Situation #2 rapidly starts to resemble situation #1. The problem reaches beyond the issue of taxonomy and into far more fundamental questions about electronic publishing.

    So, I just don’t see how it’s different or “clean”. The paper is being altered.

  42. Carl has asked me to clarify.
    I appreciate this opportunity. My boss is always telling me to be literal when I make a statement. An excellent opportunity to practice this lesson.
    By “Nature editors” I might have more appropriately named Henry Gee and whoever approved this article in the news section of Nature. – http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090519/full/news.2009.494.html
    Which may have been Henry Gee but I just don’t know. So my use of the words “Nature editors” (plural) may or may not have been excessive.

    I love Nature magazine. Please don’t get me wrong on that point. The message I was trying to get across was that the opinions emanating from nature regarding the unveiling of Ida have been markedly negative and detracting. This makes it blatantly apparent about how some of the upper management at Nature feel about the “online only” open access path science is wandering down.

    I will continue to update my thoughts on this topic at
    http://www.tompainesghost.com/2009/05/ida-missing-link.html

  43. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    @42: It all depends on perspective: this issue has a great many aspects, with possibly severe repercussions.

    However, from a nomenclatural perspective it is simple: At the moment nothing has been published, and there is a blank field awaiting an action.

    In solution #2 (from the perspective of PlosONE there are two separate papers), publication will be effected and a date of publication established by the second publication

    In solution #1 (from the perspective of PlosONE there is one paper, altered after publication), publication will also be effected and a date of publication established by the corrected publication. The difference is that there is one paper with two different versions and two dates of publication, one of the only-electronic ‘pre-publication’ and one of the ‘nomenclatural’ publication. Thus, solution #1 is a confused version of solution #2.

  44. Thanks for this useful exchange. I thought I’d post the reply we have provided the authors and the press.

    1. The names are not nomenclaturally available from the electronic version of the publication.
    2. The journal has contacted us for advice on how to ensure these names are nomenclaturally available, which we provided, saying that a separate print edition must be produced by a method that assures numerous identical and durable copies, and that those copies must be obtainable free of charge or for purchase.
    3. If the publisher does what we recommended, then the names will be nomenclaturally available from the date of the paper publication.
    4. This is a provisional arrangement as the ICZN is working on a proposed amendment to the Code allowing nomenclatural availability of names published in electronic-only journals. The proposed amendment is available here: http://www.iczn.org/electronic_publication.html and we encourage public input in this important discussion.
    5. There are >1.8 million named species in the world, with approximately 16,000-25,000 new nomenclatural acts each year in zoology alone. Managing the scientific names indexing of this biodiversity requires rules promoting stability. The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, representing the taxonomic community and users of zoological names, works to uphold stability but also to develop the rules to accommodate technological development.

  45. @44: My point is that PLoS ONE can’t simply publish two nearly identical papers and acknowledge them both. This is an ethical breach: duplicate publication. It has to suppress one of the publications, de-index it, and possibly even disable links to it, if the article is not altered to acknowledge the existence of a nearly identical article that supersedes it. Again, situations 1 and 2 begin to resemble each other and we start down a slippery slope…

  46. I take my last comment back: this would be re-publication, not duplicate publication.

  47. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    @47: I would not know about the internal policy of PlosONE or the standards it has to live by.

    Other solutions are:
    1 the solution provided by Ellinor Michel: Print out the PlosONE Article in a way so that the print-out fulfills the requirements for publication. In that case the print-out is the work that counts, and that establishes the date of publication.
    2. publish a new electronic paper that does conform to the requirements and that does not repeat the entire publication but only the nomenclaturally relevant material.

  48. @43: The negative remarks you mention in the Nature article are not unique to the editors of Nature. They seem to be shared by every science blogger and commentator who has written on the subject. The fact is that the authors describing “Ida” asserted a phylogenetic hypothesis (that Ida is closer to anthropoids than to lemurs), used this point to deliberately orchestrate a media event, and yet did not actually test their hypothesis in the paper. Whether they’re right or wrong remains to be seen, but in the mean time, it’s irresponsible any way you slice it.

  49. From an ethical standpoint, there do exist situations in which it is okay to correct and re-publish:

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/pubs/factsheets/errata.html#corrected

    I would think this article qualifies. So, indeed all may be okay if we go with this solution after all.

  50. Laurent

    As I read the current ICZN, producing a new electronic paper is not an option at all.

    What Art. 8.6 explains, is how a “work produced by a method that does not employ printing on paper” can become published in the sense of the Code. But Art. 9.8 also explicitly excludes “text or illustrations distributed by means of electronic signals (e.g. by means of the World Wide Web)” from what can be (thus become) published work.

    Art. 8.6 is entirely irrelevant to web-only journals as such. It applies only to works that are not printed on paper, but are nevertheless produced /physically/, using another method – e.g., as CD-ROMs. A web-based production can simply /never/ become published under the current Code, whatever you include in the text.

    For the content of a web-only journal to become published under the Code, you must run a physical production in parallel to the web production. It is this physical production, and only it, that can become “published” – the web-based production itself remains technically “unpublished”. If this is done using a method that does not employ printed paper (e.g., the pdf on a series of identical CDs), then this physical production must satisfy 8.6. (But note that the required statement, as long as it is on the CD, could be in a separate file, outside the main pdf.) If this is done on printed paper, then 8.6 does not apply at all.

  51. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    @52. Yes, you are right. I let myself be led into a blind alley by the reactions already in place, which once again illustrates the dangers of responding immediately and reacting to what is there, instead of sitting back and thinking it through first.

    It is really weird that PlosONE did not give any thought to establishing anything at a nomenclatural level, considering the size of the hype they organized. It is not a matter of overlooking a detail, but of just not caring at all.

    The reasoning involving Art 8.6 would hold up if there was a simultaneously produced CD or DVD. It would have been easy to provide (and mail out) CD’s, DVD’s or printouts, but instead there apparently never was anything at all. I apologize for fixing on an (irrelevant) detail and overlooking the obvious. I should know better.

  52. Ellinor Michel (#45) has provided an official response from the ICZN. Having followed this issue rather closely these past few days, I would like to offer a few more comments from the perspective of one Commissioner.

    First of all, the comments about Article 8.6 (and associated requirements to distribute copies to libraries, mentions of such within the publication, etc.) is misdirected in this case. Art. 8.6 applies only to publications on “durable” media other than paper. It was intended to cover things such as CD-ROMs and the like. Although PLoSONE attempted to conform to art 8.6 on a previous article describing new species (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001787), no such attempt was made in the case of Darwinius, because no “durable” media was involved. Thus, for the time being, we can ignore the implications of Art. 8.6.

    The critical Code Article in this case is 8.1:

    8.1. Criteria to be met. A work must satisfy the following criteria:

    8.1.1. it must be issued for the purpose of providing a public and permanent scientific record,

    8.1.2. it must be obtainable, when first issued, free of charge or by purchase, and

    8.1.3. it must have been produced in an edition containing simultaneously obtainable copies by a method that assures numerous identical and durable copies.

    8.1.1 is probably safe to assume in the case of the PLoS article. And it probably excludes all the paper-printed media reports on the issue (as does Article 16.1).

    8.1.2 and 8.1.3 are the ones that we should be focusing on. Specifically:

    1) Did PLoS create “numerous” (technically >1) paper copies of the article (as they did for the ant article linked above)?

    2) If so, were these paper copies “simultaneously obtainable”?

    If the answer to both of these questions is “Yes”, then the name is available from those simultaneously obtainable paper copies (not from the online edition). As it happens, there is no requirement to distribute those paper copies to any libraries (or anyone else, for that matter) — they need only be “obtainable”. (The “5 major publicly accessible libraries” thing is only relevant to durable copies produced on something other than paper as per Art. 8.6, which as I said doesn’t apply in this case.)

    However, if the answer to either of the above questions is “no” (and I believe I have confirmation now that this is the case), then the name is not currently available. It could be made available, at any time, by anyone, simply by producing “numerous” paper copies of a description (that also fulfills all the other requirements of the Code) and making those copies simultaneously obtainable. This is where things get a bit dangerous for the authors of the PLoS article, in the sense that someone could “scoop” them on the name.

    The good news is that this doesn’t seem to have happened yet. As stated above, we can safely eliminate all the newspaper articles and such — even if they were printed on paper. The real danger, however, is that someone might intentionally and maliciously pre-empt the original authors by establishing their own name (or the same name — doesn’t matter) based on the same type specimen. This would be Michael Taylor’s option 3, and I agree with him that this would be the WORST possible outcome — particularly for the perpetrators of such unethical behavior themselves (assuming they value their reputations and careers).

    In my mind, the solution is striaghtforward: PLoS should print “numerous” paper copies of the original description, and then make them simultaneously obtainable. In doing so, they would fulfill the requirements of the Code, and the names contained therein would become available as of the date on which the numerous paper copies were obtainable. In the ideal case, I think the paper copy should be an exact representation of the PDF, with one exception: there ought to be a small change: the date following the word “Published” on page 1 should be the date on which the paper copies were made obtainable; not the date on which the PDF was released. This last bit is certainly not rquired for Code compliance, but it would help mitigate future confusion by allowing the distinction between the two versions (PDF and paper), and stating the correct date of availablity (which is necessary for purposes of establishing priority under the Code).

    In the near-term future, I think all of this fuss and confusion can be reduced or eliminated if journals that produce electronic publications that contain Code-goverend nomenclatural acts simply created “numerous” (technically 2 or more, but 50 is probably a better number) paper copies, and made those copies obtainable free of charge or by purchase on the same date that the PDF is released.

  53. J Pardo

    You would think that a problem this vast would have been caught in review or in sound editorial practices. Perhaps right now the issue is that the PLoS experiment in open-access electronic publication has not had all the bugs worked out as of yet. That’s a pretty big buyer-beware for researchers (especially graduate students and young faculty) who are shopping around for a venue to publish noteworthy papers. We can talk about responsibilities to the scientific community all we want, but if PLoS does not ensure that its publications carry weight in the scientific community, it simply won’t attract higher-level publications at all. I think acknowledging these bugs (such as this one) and formally modifying PLoS editorial practice to adhere to good publishing standards is key to the future of the journal and the electronic publication enterprise. I have seen in this post several members of the PLoS editorial staff make excuses for what seems to me to be a major editorial oversight: a publication went to print without a very important piece of information about curation (in this case, curation of paper versions of the document, as opposed to curation of the specimen). This is no less critical than if accession information about the specimen itself was not included in the paper.

    The alternatives are to believe that adherence to taxonomic standards and/or good peer-review and editorial practice are not priorities for the PLoS staff, which are not good alternatives.

  54. On the topic of duplicate publications and such, I would like to make a point. Consider the following examples:

    1) A new species description published in Nature, for which a PDF copy is distributed online weeks prior to the date when the paper-printed copies are obtainable.

    2) A new species description published in Zootaxa, for which a PDF copy is distributed concurrently with the date when the paper-printed issues are obtainable.

    3) A new species description published in PLoS, originally with the intent of existing only in its electronic form(s), but then printed as numerous identical copies a week

    later, which are made obtainable free of charge or by purchase.

    4) A new species description created as an MS Word file and sent around to the author’s colleagues for informal review, which is later printed as numerous identical copies on

    the author’s laser printer in his home office, which he intends for the permanent scientific record and is perfectly willing to mail out copies to anyone who asks for it.

    From the perspective of a scientist, these may all seem very different.

    From the perspective of the Code, they are essentially indistinguishable. In all cases, the electronic version of the publication is irrelevant. It matters not whether the

    electronic version is identical to the paper-printed version, slightly changed, or completely different. Nor does it matter whether the electronic version was distributed

    prior to, or after the paper-based version. From the perspective of the Code, it simply does not exist. All that matters (in the context of the current conversation) is

    whether a document was issued for the purpose of providing a public and permanent scientific record, was produced in an edition containing simultaneously obtainable copies by a

    method that assures numerous identical and durable copies, and that such copies are obtainable, when first issued, free of charge or by purchase. The date of availability is

    the date on which the numerous identical paper copies were simultaneously obtainable.

  55. J Pardo

    In the typical cases, it is obvious which paper is a citable taxonomic authority. In the PLoS case, it is not. This paper as it stands is a citable paper EXCEPT for the purposes of taxonomic authority. This is a dreadful oversight that suggests a major editorial screwup. And now it looks like that screwup may have occurred due to external deadlines set by mass media outlets.

    This is fishy. Stop making excuses and start convincing us, the scientific community, that:

    A) Your editorial board is going to develop policy that will prevent such things from happening again

    B) Your editorial board is going to consider your core principles of “Excellence” and “Scientific Integrity” to be of equal importance as “Open Access” and “Science as a Public Resource.”

    C) Your editorial board recognizes that mistakes of this caliber reflect not only on the authors of the paper, but also on the editorial practices of the journal. This is not simply an authorial mistake; it is an editorial mistake as well.

    D) Scientists who choose to publish their work in PLoS will get the editorial attention that their work deserves. Our research and our ideas reflect on you, and your journal reflects on us. As scientists, we have a responsibility to ensure that our work is as rigorous as possible, as accurate as possible, and as clearly communicated as possible. As editors, it is your responsibility to ensure that our work is clear, is rigorous, and adheres to the standards of our community. When these responsibilities are met, we both profit from it; your journal gains prestige and our work helps us contribute to our community. When they are not met, both the journal and the authors look sloppy and amateurish.

  56. I’ve posted a longish piece on Darwinius over at WEIT, which see for the details. The bottom line as I see it: Darwinius was not published in Plosone; it might have been published in one of the newspaper articles, but I hope not. I’ve not yet read Carl’s update # 5, so I’m anxious to see what the ICZN’s Executive Secretary has to say.

  57. David Marjanović

    and none of us really wants this thing to be called Rioarribasimia.

    I’m still ROTFL about this, but it’s not actually funny at all…

    And it gets still worse. Doesn’t everything that applies to Darwinius also apply to Maiacetus?

  58. I am the Managing Editor of PLoS ONE. Regarding the requirements for making the name Darwinius masillae nomenclaturally available in the eyes of the ICZN, we have been in discussion with Ellinor Michel (the ICZN Executive Secretary) and have additionally consultated with Richard L. Pyle (an ICZN Commissioner). They have advised us that by doing the following, we have met the ICZN code and therefore the name should be considered nomenclaturally available.

    A print-run of fifty copies of the paper has been created on May 21st. The top sheet of each copy has the following text appended to the footer: “This document was produced by a method that assures numerous identical & durable copies, and those copies were simultaneously obtainable for the purpose of providing a public and permanent scientific record, in accordance with Article 8.1 of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Date of publication: 21st May 2009”

    Apart from this wording, these copies are identical to the electronic version that is freely available from our web site at: http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObjectAttachment.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0005723&representation=PDF

    These copies are now obtainable from our offices at 185 Berry Street, Suite 3100, San Francisco, CA 94107, USA. Anyone who requests a copy, and tenders a fee of $10 (towards the cost of postage and printing) will receive a copy.

    Having made the printed copies available, we have been told by the individuals named above that we have conformed with the relevant ICZN codes. They have also indicated that the proposed resolution is an interim step, which should meet the requirements of the Code until a formal amendment is published within the next few years.

    We are very grateful to the ICZN for their actions to resolve this matter.

  59. Just a minor clarification of the penultimate paragraph in Peter Binfield’s paragraph in comment #61 above:

    The pending proposed Amendment to the ICZN Code for allowing electronic forms of publication (see: http://www.iczn.org/electronic_publication.html) is currently in review, as is required for all such major amendments to the Code. This process will likely be completed within the next year, and if adopted, the amendment should go into effect at that time.

    What will require “a few years” to be published is the next (Fifth) Edition of the ICZN Code (see: http://iczn.ansp.org/). Presumably, this Edition of the Code will also support the electronic publication of nomenclatural acts (especially if the proposed amendment to the existing 4th Edition of the Code is approved).

  60. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    Although I agree with better than 99% of what Richard Pyle has said (good to see the proper authorities stepping up!), there are a few points worth making:
    1) It is a great relief to see that nobody stepped in to scoop the name. To me, the course followed by PLoS ONE looked uncomfortably much like a deliberate challenge to all comers to come and rob them. This did not happen; a good sign, a reason for hope!
    2) The main point hammered out above is that there is a separate nomenclatural universe, with its own perspective on what does and does not exist. However, the distinction between the existence of publications and the existence of names is not the only distinction to be made. All the above bears on animal names (zoological names). In another location Carl Zimmer says: “The fact that taxonomists share a set of rules, no matter how intricate, was one of the great advances in the history of biology.” That, emphatically, is not true (unless one takes the position that taxonomy is animal-taxonomy-only). Taxonomists do not share a set of rules. Instead zoologists share a set of rules, while botanists share another set of rules, and bacteriologists (studying prokaryotes) share a third of rules, etc. These sets of rules govern separate universes, each of them huge, and complex as well as fragile. These parallel universes show some overlap and are more or less comparable, but they are separate: there is a great divide in terminology and detail between these universes, and it is quite dangerous for somebody at home in one universe to say something about another universe. But indeed the world should count itself fortunate that each of these sets of rules (each ruling its own universe) apply the world over, and that there are not more of them (it has been touch-and-go).

    As what would work for a zoological name would not necessarily work for a botanical name (and vice versa), PLoS ONE’s adopting a policy that meets with the requirements of the animal Code (the ICZN) is not guaranteed to be sufficient for the future. Nor is it guaranteed that something that will work now will keep working in the future. These rulebooks are adjusted from time to time, sometimes because of incidents like this one.

    (BTW: The one point that I really disagree on with Richard Pyle was his suggestion to alter the pdf to change the date. I am much happier with the solution actually adopted, namely to add an explanatory footer.)

  61. Paul van Rijckevorsel

    I see that in the above there is a very good illustration of the great conceptual divide between the nomenclatural universe and the ‘real’world, where it says:

    “In the past, PLoS has gone to great lengths to ensure that taxanomic papers published in PLoS One meet the ICZN standards. Last year PLoS One published a paper describing a revision of several ant genera.
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001787
    Cognizant of the ICZN standards, PLoS One ensured that print copies of the article were deposited in appropriate libraries. This was described explicitly in the paper.”

    However, from an ICZN-nomenclatural perspective this is quite ambivalent. The actual ant-publication says: “In accordance with section 8.6 of the ICZN’s International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, we have deposited copies of this article at the following five publicly accessible libraries: […]” The statement in the article could be quite allright, if (and only if) these copies are CD’s, DVD’s, etc. However, if these copies are paper printouts, it is nonsense, as Art. 8.6 only deals with “[…] a work produced after 1999 by a method other than printing on paper”. On the face of it, judging only by the PLos ONE-paper, it looks in order, as it is not made clear that the “copies” are not the required CD’s, DVD’s, etc, so a reviewer might not catch this, nor would a reader, as he would suppose that the names were published on the 5 CD’s, DVD’s, etc that were deposited. However, apparently the reader would be wrong in his assumption: apparently these ant names were published in the paper printouts sent to the libraries, and the number of five libraries is an arbitrary choice, where the Code requires “numerous identical and durable copies”, that were “simultaneously obtainable”. Anyway, there is nothing “explicit” about it; the reader has to enquire further to find out what exactly did happen and how and where these names were actually published.

    Note that if these ants were plants (with botanical names), this procedure of sending out paper printouts to “botanical institutions with libraries accessible to botanists” would work, while sending out CD’s, DVD’s, etc would not. Here too, it would not be required to specify this in the paper itself.

  62. I realize that folks have mostly moved on from this particular blog post, but before I move on myself I just want to say that I agree completely with Paul van Rijckevorsel’s parenthetical at the end of his Comment #64. After posting my comment (to which he refers), I came to the same conclusion myself, and therefore recommended to Peter Binfield that he add the explanatory note at the end, instead of simply changing the publication date. I think it’s important to include the publication date of the paper copy — just to formally establish the date of availability; but I agree that it’s best done within the appropriate context — as was actually done.

  63. As interesting as fossil finds are to science geeks – and to much of the public as well – what sets this episode apart from the norm is the extent of machinations involved to hype this discovery before the public. And also, there’s the underlying question of whether such publicity-mongering is good or bad for science?

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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