Field of Science

Validity of Electronically Published New Taxonomic Names Redux: Posting Accepted Manuscripts

Sorry to dredge this up again, but I'd really like some input here from my readers.  In the past there has been much discussion of how new taxonomic names (i.e. genera and species) published solely in electronic format do not meet the requirements of the ICZN, nor will they meet the requirements of the most recent draft of PhyloCode when it is finally enacted. Journals such as PLoSONE and Palaeontologica Electronica have averted this by providing hard copy as well. However, past discussion has only discussed articles that are officially published.

A new dinosaurian taxon currently hitting the blogosphere is a ceratopsian dinosaur on exhibit at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman, OK.  Norman hosted the annual SVP meeting less than a decade ago and many of us got to see this monster up close, it is quite amazing.  A recent blog post on this manuscript over at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs (one of the best dino news blogs out there IMO, and thus this is not a critique of that post or the site) states that this new specimen has been published this week in the journal Cretaceous Research. However, a visit to the journal website shows that this paper is not in the most recent paper copy of the journal, nor is it even a finished paper published online in advance of print.  Instead it is currently only an accepted manuscript and still has to go through the steps of being assigned to a journal issue, not to mention the final proof stage.  Thus this new taxonomic name is still pretty far out from the final publication stage.  How far?  Depends on the journal.  Back around this time in 2006 I had a proposed taxonomic name in a paper that had been in the "accepted" stage for almost a year!  Most of you probably know how that situation ended.  "Accepted" technically is "in press", but until it has been assigned to an issue and the proof stage has been passed there really is no guarantee that the paper will be published anytime soon. Furthermore, various aspects of the paper, including the name, could still change at this stage.

What is to stop someone from providing a really quick publication through a faster outlet (including unfortunately something purportedly called "lulu press")? Nothing except personal ethics of individual researchers and maybe the fear that if someone ever did something so unscrupulous (after having seen the accepted paper) they would get called out by their peers.  It seems like a risk to me, especially as this is a specimen that has been on public display for years and there are numerous photos out there.

Also, what if the authors themselves think of a name (genus and/or species) they like better than the current one?  At this stage they could still change it. Although they still get the credit for the new name, the old name technically would still be available for another specimen in the future and could cause confusion if someone decided to use it. This does happen. For example, Adamanasuchus was a name originally proposed for the animal now known as Vancleavea.  It was published first as a nomen nudum in a 1983 issue of Arizona Highways magazine.  Lucas et al 2006 have since used this name (currently valid) for an aetosaur from the same stratigraphic horizon and geographical location.

Furthermore, a purview through the list of "in press" papers at Cretaceous Research shows that this is not the only newly proposed taxonomic name hanging out there.  I understand that the journal provides these papers early as a "service" to the readers, but given the taxonomic rules we all abide by that provides the accepted name to the first published in PRINT, I feel that the journals are taking a chance on our hard work going into this research.  Sorry but a DOI reference still does not count.

I like readers opinions on this type of extreme early "publishing".  Am a sounding overly cautious?  Maybe, but I personally don't feel like getting burned twice nor seeing any other researcher burned as well. I you believe testimony given in my past case you might argue that having the name out early might have averted the whole situation; however, knowing the whole history of what really happened I'm not buying it and neither should you.

[P.S. I've mentioned Aetogate as an example of what could happen and really don't want this to degenerate into a discussion of that particular case.  What I really want to know is if people really think it is a good idea to put new taxonomic names out there in the accepted manuscript stage where they have no protection against the priority rules in taxonomic nomenclature].

17 comments:

  1. I agree with you entirely Bill, despite there being little response at this present time, for obvious reasons. Hopefully there will more interest after the new year.

    For those who believe in DOIs, I read something on the DML which i find slightly troublesome. Apparently the DOI of an online manuscript in early view is fixed, despite amendments (eg. corrections in spelling), which requires a new new DOI. I agree that "online early view"/accepted manuscripts are technically in press, subject to final proofing, and this process needs to be allowed to happen freely. A benefit, presently underutilized, of putting an article up for early viewing before print is that other peers may notice errors and make beneficial suggestions, additional to official peer-reviewers, so providing an opportunity for the author to further improve the article before publishing. If there is a reliance on the DOI being consistent, this for me plays against this above process before the paper is churned out into the final 'print' version.

    Regarding getting scooped, some journals provide the option to the author if they would like their manuscript available in an 'early view format' - authors should consider that option more closely when erecting new taxa, especially in a competitive research setting.

    A different approach is seen in CJES, which doesn't make articles with new taxic names available until the print version is dated. CJES's process hardly hinders the [early] spread of information, because it's only a difference of about a month in which an article with new taxonomy is listed online and made.

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  2. I'm not a fan of these pre-published papers at all. As an author you can pick up on major errors or have things to add at the proofs stage, but that will not stop people quoting what is there on the page in their own papers. You could be cited for things you never actually 'said' in print.

    I do also know of situations aside from aetogate where people have jumped, or tried to jump others with rapid publications. I think it's a genuine problem that people could get gazzumped by unscrupulous researchers.

    As it happens, I'm working on a paper right now describing a new taxon which is likely to be the subject or serious interest. It has (so I'm told) been the subject of one such taxonomic claim jump attempt already.So if it were to sit online for 6 months it would be a sitting duck for a second attempt.

    This is just generally all round bad practice as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't really serve anyone.Researchers can always hand out unproofed copies to their colleagues if people really need them, but these could change dramatically, or even be pulled from publication by the authors and then what would happen?

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  3. I have just, in the last few days, had a paper finally accepted at a journal that posts online previews of accepted manuscripts, and I have asked the editor not to post ours in this way for the very reasons you mention (and also so than we can co-ordinate publicity around a single release date).

    I can see why journals like to do this, and even why they would feel that in sharing the information as soon as possible they're being the good guys; but given the rules of zoological nomenclature AS THEY STAND, this favour is one that can only misfire.

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  4. I wrote a long comment which appears to have vanished. it was published but now I can't see it. Odd. If it doens't turn up, I'll write it out again I suppose. Short version though, don't like this practice for lots of reasons.

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  5. I agree that a journal policy of posting the paper only when it has been officially published is a good one, as long as the ICZN views these kinds of preprints as it does. The issue was recently discussed at The Open Source Paleontologist, too - such zombie nomenclature is distressingly common! On the whole I think science is better served by getting the information out there more quickly, but the threat of ethical misconduct must be taken seriously, as long as there is no credible ICZN acceptance of these kinds of pre-publications.

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  6. I am responsible for CJES simultaneous publishing hardcopy and online copy of manuscripts with taxonomic content. Everyone is waiting for the ICZN to update its rules with regard to electronic publication - an absolute must for our neontological colleagues who are rushing to learn about our present-day biodiversity before it is lost forever. However, nothing has happened. Most journals do not have an option for authors to keep their paper offline until the print version appears, and thus it sadly becomes a gamble.

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  7. Rescued comment from Archosaur Musings:

    I'm not a fan of these pre-published papers at all. As an author you can pick up on major errors or have things to add at the proofs stage, but that will not stop people quoting what is there on the page in their own papers. You could be cited for things you never actually 'said' in print.

    I do also know of situations aside from aetogate where people have jumped, or tried to jump others with rapid publications. I think it's a genuine problem that people could get gazzumped by unscrupulous researchers.

    As it happens, I'm working on a paper right now describing a new taxon which is likely to be the subject or serious interest. It has (so I'm told) been the subject of one such taxonomic claim jump attempt already.So if it were to sit online for 6 months it would be a sitting duck for a second attempt.

    This is just generally all round bad practice as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't really serve anyone.Researchers can always hand out unproofed copies to their colleagues if people really need them, but these could change dramatically, or even be pulled from publication by the authors and then what would happen?

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  8. What is also of concern is that even though the ICZN is moving very slowly regarding recognition of early electronic publication, the most recent draft of PhyloCode (4c) uses the same criteria as the current ICZN. Draft PhyloCode also explicitly states that electronic publications must meet the hard copy requirements. PhyloCode also has a name registration requirement, early registrations are only given a provisional number before final print version and it is recommended that the request not be made more than a month in advance of final publication.

    This does not solve any of these electronic preprint problems either. Thus, it is not only the ICZN who needs to update their rules.

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  9. Very informative post, Bill. I posted an update earlier today after I read Matt Martyniuk's clarification on the DML that it hasn't been officially published yet. Yet another aspect of paleontology I have a lot to learn about. I spend so much time learning about the animals themselves that it comes at the expense of other aspects of the science, such as issues like this.

    I'll include another note on this in my weekly roundup, linking to this post.

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  10. Oh, and I always welcome critical comments on my posts when I make bonehead mistakes like this! I have pretty thick skin and try to hold myself accountable. I'll make revisions as soon as possible to minimize the collateral damage.

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  11. What's funny to me is where the emphasis lies in all of this. Nomenclature is supposed to be a tool for the community, but a lot of the rules seem to be centered around the idea that nomenclature is an opportunity for researchers to put feathers in their caps. That said, I have no suggestions on how to change this. Humans will be humans.

    On the subject of the PhyloCode having more conservative publication rules: I'm not entirely sure this is a bad thing. Remember, the primary goal of the ICZN is alpha taxonomy while the only goal of the PhyloCode is beta taxonomy. Alpha taxonomy needs to be rapid and agile in order to accommodate new discoveries; beta taxonomy needs to be considered and deliberate in order to promote stability. I have no objections to the PhyloCode allowing electronic-only publication as well--I'm just not convinced that it's as important as it is for the ICZN.

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  12. Mike makes some very good points. There does appear to be a strong drive in science to put "feathers in ones cap" as it is these feathers by which most researchers form their scientific legacy. Sadly the scooping of ideas (and thus garnering more feathers)occurs at all levels, but taxonomic scooping is much easier to do because of the existing rules. All you need to do is print a name, list the holotype number, and provide a diagnosis in 50 durable copies and send one fifth of these as donations to various libraries.


    While it is correct that current PhyloCode doesn't deal with alpha taxonomy, the paper in discussion also provides a new clade name. These may be even easier to scoop then a genus or species name (all you need is a cladogram and a definition)and also lack priority protection when only in electronic format.

    I guess the real question, as Mike alluded to, is how attached are we as researchers to being the author of new taxonomic names? If we place no value on this at all then scooping of names isn't really a problem. Then again, maybe the desire to scoop isn't so strong if there if no value. Unfortunately, again the taxonomic rules provide this value by the permanent attachment of the authors name to the taxonomic name. Shoot, there have even been proposals to provide rankless species names by making the authors name part of the species name. Talk about taxonomic immortality!

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  13. There is a provision in the Code of Ethics (Appendix A) of the ICZN that prevents researchers from publishing names on specimens that are known to them to have been recognized by other researchers. If an electronic copy of an article making such a recommendation is already available online, I would think that it would provide a strong case in protecting the original name. What do others here think, is that enough?

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  14. Eric suggested: "There is a provision in the Code of Ethics (Appendix A) of the ICZN that prevents researchers from publishing names on specimens that are known to them to have been recognized by other researchers. If an electronic copy of an article making such a recommendation is already available online, I would think that it would provide a strong case in protecting the original name. What do others here think, is that enough?"

    Well, I don't know, Eric. Would you think that a widely disseminated Ph.D dissertation, three published papers and two SVP abstracts would be enough? If you do, then you may not have read about Heliocanthus. Executive summary at http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/nm/parker.html

    Summary of the summary: whatever you do, you're at the mercy of other people's behaviour. And the SVP will not intervene to help if you get screwed over.

    (Sorry, Bill: I know you didn't intend to drag this up again, but I couldn't just let it pass.)

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  15. Eric suggested: "There is a provision in the Code of Ethics (Appendix A) of the ICZN that prevents researchers from publishing names on specimens that are known to them to have been recognized by other researchers. If an electronic copy of an article making such a recommendation is already available online, I would think that it would provide a strong case in protecting the original name. What do others here think, is that enough?"

    Well, I don't know, Eric. Would you think that a widely disseminated Ph.D dissertation, three published papers and two SVP abstracts would be enough? If you do, then you may not have read about Heliocanthus. Executive summary at http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/nm/parker.html

    Summary of the summary: whatever you do, you're at the mercy of other people's behaviour. And the SVP will not intervene to help if you get screwed over.

    (Sorry, Bill: I know you didn't intend to drag this up again, but I couldn't just let it pass.)

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  16. For some reason blogger has not been accepting all comments (although they show up in my e-mail log). This rescued one is from Mike Taylor:

    Mike Taylor has left a new comment on your post "Validity of Electronically Published New Taxonomic...":

    Eric suggested: "There is a provision in the Code of Ethics (Appendix A) of the ICZN that prevents researchers from publishing names on specimens that are known to them to have been recognized by other researchers. If an electronic copy of an article making such a recommendation is already available online, I would think that it would provide a strong case in protecting the original name. What do others here think, is that enough?"

    Well, I don't know, Eric. Would you think that a widely disseminated Ph.D dissertation, three published papers and two SVP abstracts would be enough? If you do, then you may not have read about Heliocanthus. Executive summary at http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/nm/parker.html

    Summary of the summary: whatever you do, you're at the mercy of other people's behaviour. And the SVP will not intervene to help if you get screwed over.

    (Sorry, Bill: I know you didn't intend to drag this up again, but I couldn't just let it pass.)

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  17. "While it is correct that current PhyloCode doesn't deal with alpha taxonomy, the paper in discussion also provides a new clade name. These may be even easier to scoop then a genus or species name (all you need is a cladogram and a definition)and also lack priority protection when only in electronic format."

    Actually, it would be a lot harder than that to scoop. Unlike the ICZN, the PhyloCode will have a registration database. See Article 8, especially Recs. 8B and 8C.

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