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Zoologists endorse electronic publication for new species

A new species of Yeti crab (Kiwa puravida) was described online in the journal PLoS-ONE.

Andrew Thurber

Zoologists looking for the ultimate tribute to Stephen Colbert, Bob Marley and other celebs can now name new species in electronic-only publications, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) announced on 4 September, in an editorial in the journal Zootaxa (published in print and online).

Previously, new animal species descriptions were required to be published in print to be considered bona fide.  The decision — by a vote of 23 in favour and 3 against, with one abstention — comes a year after the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) endorsed electronic publication for new kinds of plants (See ‘Botanists shred paperwork in taxonomy reforms‘).

“It’s a relief and a delight that it’s finally fixed,” says Mike Taylor, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Bristol, UK, and a blogger who has long advocated for electronic taxonomy publication. “The very fact that we’re discussing this in 2012 seems sort of silly, when every journal worth mentioning is online and many significant journals are only online.”

The amendment allows for descriptions of new species in “widely accessible electronic copies with fixed content and layout” published after 2011.  New animal species will also need to be registered with, ICZN’s official registry.

“There is no doubt that the changes in both ICBN and ICZN in 2012 have opened an exciting new era for taxonomy through electronic publication, which will greatly accelerate the description [and] publication of biodiversity and also reduce the cost of publication,” writes Zootaxa chief editor  Zhi-Qiang Zhang in an editorial accompanying the new rule.

Jan Van Tol, ICZN President and Director of Research at the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, The Netherlands, says it took so long to change the policy because commission members wanted assurance that initial species descriptions could be found, decades even centuries after publication.  “We feel it is safe enough now,” he says.

Taylor — author of a 2009 paper titled “Electronic publication of nomenclatural acts is inevitable, and will be accepted by the taxonomic community with or without the endorsement of the Code” — says that many scientists and journals flouted the rules. The Proceedings of the Royal Society B publishes papers online months before in print, and considers the online edition the document of record. “It was really the code recognizing where the world has gone rather than dictating where the world was allowed to go,” he says.

The change, Taylor notes, may also help keep small journals afloat by reducing print publication costs and allow other journals to publish more taxonomy papers. Prior to the rule change, online-only journals such as PLoS ONE tended to print and bind a small number of copies of papers describing new species to comply. “The improvements for small publishing are much more significant,” Taylor says.  “There are some where the price of doing that is a significant hunk of their yearly budget.”


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