Field of Science

Early On-line Publications and Establishing Taxonomic Names

I may have not been paying attention lately but when I was downloading the new paper yesterday on the new stegosaur Miragaia from the Royal Society website I noticed something at the bottom of the download cover sheet that surprised me as I do not recall seeing anything like this previously.

Advance online articles have been peer reviewed and accepted for publication but have not yet appeared in the paper journal (edited, typeset versions may be posted when available prior to final publication). Advance online articles are citable and establish publication priority; they are indexed by PubMed from initial publication. Citations to Advance online articles must include the digital object identifier (DOIs) and date of initial publication.

So the editors of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B are claiming that new taxon names such as Miragaia longicollum are established upon publication online, so in this specific case M. longicollum was established on February 25, 2009 and until the article comes out in print it is cited with this date (I have fixed this in my previous post and am glad that they explicitly state how to cite an advance article).

What does the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) say about this? Jerry Harris had an article a few years back (Harris, 2004) where he recommended amendments to Articles 8 and 9 of the code to accommodate DOIs and advance online publications. Specifically this would deal with Articles 8.6, which states that on-line publications must deposit hard copies “in at least 5 major publicly accessible libraries which are identified by name in the work itself” and Article 9.8 which states that “text or illustrations distributed by means of electronic signals” do not constitute valid work (ICZN, 1999). Thus, according to the ICZN, the name would not be valid until the printed version is made available to the public (unless an amendment has already been made, which I am unaware of). Countering this Harris (2004) argued that on-line publications met the availability criteria and that DOIs provide unique, archived identifiers that fix the date of publication, and thus proposed:

“I propose to the Commission that, under Article 78.3 ('Amendments to the Code'), Articles 8 and 9 of the current Code require both pro- and retroactive (to the effective date of the Fourth Edition, I January 2000) modification to accommodate the following issue: documents published electronically with DOl numbers and that are followed by hard-copy printing and distribution be exempt from Article 9.8 and be recognized as valid, citable sources of zoological taxonomic information and that their electronic publication dates be considered definitive. Note that this does not require electronic publications to have DOl numbers; only that any paper appearing in electronic format that does have a DOl number, and is followed by traditional, hard-copy issuance, is an acceptable place for the appearance of zoological nomenclatural action. Electronic publications lacking DOl numbers lack the citability benefits enjoyed by DOl registered documents and, regardless of whether followed by hard-copy release, will still be subject to Article 9.8 and be considered invalid for zoological nomenclatural actions. Such a change may be issued as a Declaration (Article 78.3.3 and subject to the provisions of Article 80.1), since it entails only minor changes to Articles 8.1.3 and 9.8, as follows (recommended additions in italics): Article 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, including documents that contain identical Digital Object Identifier numbers and for which electronic documents are followed by hard-copy release. Article 9.8. Text or illustrations distributed by means of electronic signals (e.g. by means of the World Wide Web), except where such material meets the provisions of Article 8.1.3”.

Given all of this, I want to know does the statement by The Royal Society fix the publication date for the name Miragaia longicollum as February 25, 2009?

As a side note check out Adam Yates comments at Dracovenator on the taxonomic name of this specimen.

Harris, J.D. 2004. 'Published Works' in the electronic age: recommended amendments to
Articles 8 and 9 of the Code. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 61:138-148.

International Committee of Zoological Nomenclature. 1999. International Code of Zoological Nomenclature 4th Edition. The International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, London, 126 pp.


  1. The ICZN has taken a major step in this direction. They haven't subscribed specifically to DOIs, but they really are recognizing the concept of electronic publication these days. As seems to be usual for this kind of political rhetoric, I don't think that their exact intentions become clear and, in some places, seems contradictory to the publishing trend of the last few years. least they're working on it...

  2. Thanks Jerry,

    So what do you think, will the declaration by the Royal Society that the publication date for the taxonomic name is the same as the electronic publication date stand in the eyes of the ICZN? Or if somebody put out a printed paper tomorrow with a new proposed name would the printed name count?

  3. Haven't a few dinosaurs already been named in journals that don't release print editions? I thought Plos One was only available online, though I may be wrong.

  4. Brad,

    That is the crux of the problem. Taxonomic names are until the pervue of the ICZN and according to the code a name is not valid unitl it is released in printed media. Sure there are purely on-line journals, but to abide by the code they are required to create print copies and accession them into libraries. My question is does the journal simply stating that the on-line publication constitutes priority trump the ICZN? I think not unless the journal also creates print copies and distributes them according to the code. Therefore these names, including Miragaia, are not yet established.

  5. So Plos One does put some hard copies in libraries for the ICZN's sake? I was already under the impression that Palaeontologia Electronica did that, but I wasn't sure about Plos One- I've never had any need to access to hard copy of either.

  6. So what do you think, will the declaration by the Royal Society that the publication date for the taxonomic name is the same as the electronic publication date stand in the eyes of the ICZN? Or if somebody put out a printed paper tomorrow with a new proposed name would the printed name count?

    The critical new component to the ICZN in this regard is clearly the near article 10.8, which says: "[n]ew names and nomenclatural acts cannot be made available in electronic works issued before 2010..." which I read to mean that the old rules apply 'til 2010. If that's correct, then yes, the name Miragaia (and a large number of other names that have appeared in on-line form, either solely or in pre-print form) technically would not or did not become valid until print versions emerged. So yup, if someone else had a paper appear in print tomorrow (and presuming that the print version of Proceedings B didn't come out today) that had a different name for the same taxon, then yes, the printed name would take priority over Miragaia, though I think the ICZN makes it very clear that the electronic-namer can easily petition the ICZN to have their name validated (whether or not it would agree to do so is another question).

    I'm not sure why the ICZN is fixated on 2010.

    Oh -- the new rules also say a bunch of stuff about the articles having to be archived by some agency other than the publisher itself. That's the one that is going to cause the biggest headaches, I think, because I doubt that many publishers are going to relinquish their control over their papers and distribution to some third party, at least for several years after publication. It's also something that open-access won't solve in and of itself, unless they give their stuff to a third party, too. In the article I linked to, they mentioned a couple of such archiving initiatives, but say they're not limiting themselves to those two. I've not investigated any such places (other than JSTOR and places that archive olders stuff), so I don't know if they have any such agreements with big publishing houses.

  7. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I've spent a lot of time in the company of the ICZN recently, and I am afraid that the Proc B. people are Just Plain Wrong. Miragaia is not a nomenclaturally valid name until the print version of the article is release, and simply including a statement claiming that it is doesn't change this.

    Not to worry, though: the paper version will be out soon, and I doubt anyone's going to nip in between now and then with a hardcopy paper naming it Rioarribagaia.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS