Changes in the Code for Botanical Nomenclature

Changes in the Code for Botanical Nomenclature

The requirement for publishing new names on paper
and the Latin diagnosis will be most probably dropped

Two days ago, some information appeared in Nature News about what is happening on the long expected 18th International Botanical Congress in Melbourne.

Needless to say, the mycological world is barely waiting for news from this event, as vital matters are going to be decided there.

At first place, question appears whether fungi will continue to be governed in future by the Botanical Code or not. There are different opinions on this question varying from leaving the things as they stand, which means that fungi will comply with the International Code of BOTANICAL Nomenclature, although they are living organisms having very little in common with plants. Other proposals solve this problem by possible renaming the Code to Code of Botanical and FUNGAL Nomenclature. Mycologists are also talking about separating fungi under their own Code, called sometimes MycoCode. Finally, there are some people, talking about BioCode, which will be common for all living things. I will not discuss this matter further, although I am advocating the idea of a separate Mycological Code. I will just allow myself to give you the link to Mycotaxon, where the reader will find an extensive discussion on different matters concerning the Code. There is also a full Synopsis of the proposals to amend the Code posted by the International Association for Plant Taxonomy (1 MB PDF).

Daniel Cressey on Nature News focuses on two other matters that are not of less importance than the one above, especially having in mind that fungi are likely to remain under the ICBN.

Publishing new names in electronic journals

It seems that it will be now possible to publish new names in electronic journals, dropping the need of a hard copy publication, which was one of the vital requirements for effective publication. There has been an eager discussion in the scientific community on this topic at least since the last Congress and there have been numerous pros and contras. Some botanists have already made an attempt to overpass the controversial article 29, by sending printouts to some 10 larger libraries, thus claiming to formally fulfill the requirement and claiming that the electronic publication is more accessible to researchers from “developing countries”.

Personally, I have some hesitations about this for many reasons. First of all a publication is more accessible to the above mentioned category of researchers, if and only if, it is published in Open Access Journals, a rather controversial matter itself, as even now many journals require that the authors pay a fee to make their papers Open Access. And so, on one hand the researchers have a choice – either publish in “respectable” journal and pay for Open Access, or publish in low profile Open Access journal for free. Third option is to publish in a high profile journal and choose not to make the publication Open Access, leaving the “developing countries researchers” with no access to it. I would therefore very much like to see figures how more accessible the scientific information is expected to become.

Second, it is really very easy these days to establish your own scientific journal, quickly getting an electronic ISSN. You may then overpass the need of Editorial Board and reviewers and start publishing new names by kilograms. You will then freely distribute your “production” and send the needed printouts as to comply with the provisions for effective publication.

Avoiding Latin diagnosis

Other news is that the Latin diagnosis is likely to be no more of concern for those who are willing to publish new names. There is much controversy in this as well. On one hand writing in Latin is surely a pain, it is a dead language indeed and there is decreasing number of biologists that are still able to use it. The dropping of this requirement will therefore make it easy for botanists and mycologists who didn’t have chance to learn Latin. What is on the other hand then? As it is well seen, lack of knowledge in Latin hasn’t stopped anybody from publishing yet, but exactly the opposite. New names are published annually, sometimes with clumsy written diagnosis, but they are published. Mycologists not knowledgeable in Latin, when need it, consult a Latin scholar. This requirement has so far helped to avoid “mechanical” or even speculative publishing of new names, a barrier which will possibly not exist from now on. I can only hope that I am not right about that. And one more question arises in my mind, if you cannot arrange the preparation of a short Latin diagnosis, how could you pretend that you understood well the prior Latin descriptions that you build upon. You will probably again need to consult a Latin scholar, so what is the point then? You may say that I am too suspicious, but I can point at least two real persons that will now be able to easily publish things that most of their colleagues will agree are extremely debatable if not imaginative species. And I certainly do not believe that adding further potential synonyms will greatly help to maintain the nomenclatural stability.

Finally, we must say that this information is only preliminary. It must be approved by the International Botanical Congress, before it comes in force. However, as already said by Daniel Cressey, this is expected to be only a formality.