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Taxonomic history

Solving nomenclatural issues within the genus Leiopython

Since the names proposed by Hoser (2000) were not published in a scientific journal but in a short-living herpetocultural magazine (only one issue was ever published), doubts arose that the work itself can be considered published for the purpose of zoological nomenclature. If this is not the case, then the names proposed by Hoser (2000) were de facto non-existent. Schleip (2014) examined this issue and came to the conclusion that Hoser’s work does not comply with the provisions of article 8 of the Code (ICZN, 2000):

- 8.1.1 it must be issued for the purpose of providing a public and permanent scientific record
- 8.1.2 it must be obtainable, when first issued, free of charge or by purchase, and
- 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.

The requirements of the articles 8.1.2 and 8.1.3 may have been met because the magazine was professionally produced and available to the public. However, the requirements of article 8.1.1 were not met, as pointed out by Schleip (2014):

"Although the wording of the Code generally leaves space for interpretation, Article 8.1.1 is very precise and specific (Knapp and Wright, 2010:85) in its demand that works considered published. In terms of creating a permanent scientific record, periodicals such as herpetoculture magazines and scientific journals are generally issued by a publisher and, therefore, the process of issuing the publication is normally beyond an author’s responsibility. On the other hand, it is clearly an author’s responsibility, prior to submission of a manuscript, to consider carefully the aim and scope of the outlet so that their work has proper context and reaches the appropriate audience. Given the fundamental difference in the target audience, aim, and scope between hobbyist magazines and scientific journals, it is reasonable to assume that authors who submit manuscripts to the former consciously decide to address a nonscientific audience and, hence, cannot expect to provide a permanent scientific record. This interpretation of the publishing side of nomenclature and taxonomy is anchored in the spirit of the Code, according to which "Authors, editors, and publishers have a responsibility to ensure that works containing new names, nomenclatural acts, or information likely to affect nomenclature are self-evidently published within the meaning of the Code" (Recommendation 8D; ICZN, 1999).

One may argue that since the advent of the binomial system of nomenclature, and even since the establishment of the first edition of the Code in 1961, a considerable number of names in zoology have been published in what might be called the ‘grey literature,’ and many of these are fully accepted, have been validated, and are being used by the scientific community.
While this may be the case for names published in outlets with an acceptable quality standard and a long history, it is doubtful that scientific merit should be extended to a newly established and therefore unknown herpetoculture magazine. It is in situations like these that the Code is unable to insure that taxon names are properly vetted and thus assigned scientific merit (Kaiser, 2013). It is one of the general recommendations of the Code that works containing nomenclatural acts should be published in outlets that have "...a wide circulation, and which zoologists would not regard as unlikely to contain new names in the taxonomic field concerned" (Appendix B.8, General Recommendations; ICZN, 1999); alas, this Appendix to the Code is not mandatory.

The scientific record builds the foundation of our scientific knowledge and requires works to meet certain standards in scientific quality and rigor to ensure sufficient detail for others to reproduce the research (Carraway, 2009; Kaiser et al., 2013). Hence, the accuracy and reproducibility of research are two of the major pillars in science whereas inaccurate or error-prone works compromise the integrity of the scientific record. Scientists and publishers of scientific literature, therefore, carry a responsibility and make great efforts to uphold the integrity of this process (e.g., Hoppeler et al., 2008; Carraway, 2009). Regardless of the requirements of Article 8.1.1 of the Code, nomenclature is not a scientific discipline, and works that contain nomenclatural acts (i.e., establishing new taxon names) should not automatically be eligible for the scientific record (Dayrat, 2005; Kaiser, 2013).

In short: The work by Hoser (2000) appears to not comply to the Code, hence, the work must be deemed as not published under the Rules of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN, 2000) and the names are de facto non-existent. To solve this nomenclatural issue, Schleip (2014) proposed the name Leiopython meridionalis for the southern species of White-lipped pythons and Leiopython montanus for the taxon that occurs around Wau, Morobe Province, PNG.

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