Monday, February 5, 2018

Reliable species information

Reproducibility of research and the way especially taxonomic research is cited are both subject of ongoing debates. In an attempt to provide some information on the extent of the problem, especially where both debates intersect, our friend Laurence Packer and colleagues surveyed the treatment of taxonomic information in 567 papers published in nine entomological journals in 2016.
The alarming find was that more than 98% of the publications contain so little species information on the insects being studied that they are essentially impossible to replicate. The proportion of papers that actually provide taxonomic data in sufficient detail is very small. In fact most did not cite identification methods, nor did they state whether identified material had been vouchered. Taxon concepts were almost universally absent in non-taxonomic papers. As the Venn Diagram shows, the combination of all these three factors was provided less than 2% of the time and almost two-thirds of all papers provided none of the three.

Laurence has his own unique way of bringing the point across (quite eloquent I must say): “The way taxonomic data is treated in most papers is so sloppy, it’s equivalent to saying, ‘Statistics were done by a statistician and the results were significant,’ without saying how the results were obtained. That’s clearly unacceptable.

The colleagues suggest changes to the templates used by editors and reviewers and the came up with a list of recommended questions for these templates. If any of these questions are answered with a ‘no’ or an ‘unclear’response, then at least minor revisions should be required. Here they are:
  1. Are Order and Family named in the title, abstract or keywords?
  2. Are the methods used for identiļ¬cation of all studied taxa stated clearly?
  3. Is it clear who did the identiļ¬cations, are they namedand is their contact information and/or institutional affiliation provided?
  4. Is the literature whereupon these identifications are based cited appropriately? This would include some reference to as thorough a revisional taxon concept statement as possible, preferably from recent revisionsif available.
  5. Are exemplars of all focal species (or all sampled individuals) vouchered in a named repository (ideally with contact person name and accession numbers or other means of ready detection)?

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