Planet Earth

Darwinius: Named at Last!

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerMay 22, 2009 12:07 AM


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In a remarkable feat of commenter-blogger synergy, the Loom has helped give Darwinius its name back. As I posted yesterday, some commenters on the Loom pointed out that, amidst all the hullaballoo over the unveiling of this primate fossil (oh, don't get me started), it looked as if the scientists who wrote the paper failed to follow the rules for naming a new species. The people who make the rules (the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature) require paper copies of a scientific paper, not just a digital one, as was the case of Darwinius. Today, the executive secretary of the ICZN used the Loom to confirm that, yes, Darwinius was not yet Darwinius. But at last, it is. Here's an update from Peter Binfield, the managing editor of Plos ONE, the journal that published the paper.

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:

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.

Richard Pyle of the ICZN thought that Peter's update required a small clarification, which he just sent in:

The pending proposed Amendment to the ICZN Code for allowing electronic forms of publication (see: 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: ). 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).

To those not steeped in species, genera, suborders and suprafamilies, all of these bylaws and codes may trigger vertigo. But keeping the world's biodiversity in order is not for the faint of heart. With 1.8 million species on the books, and tens of thousands of new ones being added every year, taxonomists need an intricate set of rules to keep it all straight. The fact that taxonomists share a set of rules, no matter how intricate, was one of the great advances in the history of biology. (See my lecture [audio] for a sense of the chaos that came before.) But who knows how Linneaus would have dealt with the Internet....

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