The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World: next steps

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The "Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World" - first next steps after the 4th edition:

Les Christidis was introduced by Edward to Richard Howard and to TAS trustees in 2014 as a prospective successor and when the Trustees agreed he signed a Collaboration Agreement with the Trust thus taking over the role of Managing Editor for a potential 5th edition of the checklist. He sought to assemble a team to carry the work forward but found this difficult and in August 2018 he resigned. He and TAS had earlier agreed to place on-line the taxon spreadsheet that had been published in the CD-ROM of vol. 2 of the 4th edition. This was placed on a website arranged by Les. By contrast no Update, reflective of the many new molecular studies and other recent publications, was achieved during Les’s time.

This reflects the disruption being caused by information technology and especially the Internet. The parallel with the competition between physical shops and on-line shopping is very visible and all can see that the benefits bring some disbenefits in their wake.

In 2003 those compiling the 3rd edition benefited from modest royalties. By the time the baton passed to Aves Press Limited it was already likely that sales of a 4th edition would be depressed due to high levels of acceptance of Internet based, and thus ’technically’ unpublished, checklists. Those are technically unpublished, because information placed on a website is considered ephemeral by the ICZN and is outside the approved scope of e-publication. Those citing such checklists should be aware of this because what they cite may quite soon be replaced and no longer be evident on the net. 

When material on the net is offered free-of-charge this automatically means the publisher receives no income from which to remunerate, even minimally, the work done by his team. Thus busy professionals tend to leave contributions to volunteers or junior colleagues who may or may not have an established professional level of understanding of their task. Over time it seems entirely possible that this system will see some degradation of quality except when the product is at least managed by a well-funded institution or charity. 

The "Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World" - further next steps as the situation evolves:

At the International Ornithological Congress in Vancouver in August 2018 proposals to work towards a single unified on-line avian checklist were debated. The Trust was invited but sent no Trustee; instead Les Christidis a convenor of the special topic session attended in his role of Managing Editor but had no mandate to commit the Trust as any such decision would have needed to be put to the Trustees for a vote. When Les, at meeting’s end was revealed as taking a lead role in the list unification process he resigned from his commitments under the Collaboration Agreement (no doubt recognising the conflict of interest) and those that had become members of his team were released from their implied obligations under that Agreement; obligations that some may not have known about. However, it was announced at or after Vancouver that the Trust might collaborate.

Because of the very limited activity from 2014 to date, and the dissolution of whatever team existed for the proposed update process, it is, at the moment, impossible to say whether and how TAS can collaborate. In  September 2019 TAS Trustees decided only to place the 4th edition list pages on-line and to explore the potential for creating an Update (not necessarily an Update Process). The commitment to deliver an update is in part based on the promise made by the publishers in the Registration Cards bound in at the back of volume 1 that registrants would get free access to the first five updates. Because the Trust is now placing the list pages on line with open access the publisher having givem permission for this, despite copyright in the work, the Trust has decided that the long tern promise by the past publisher will be able to be honoured only if its initail update is successful and a team has been established that is willing and able to provide fresh updates  and sufficient income flows into the Trust to cover the costs involved.

Meanwhile the Trust appointed three Trustees to (1) put the promised pages on-ine and (2) establish such a team and after considering that recovering from the 4-5 year gap in evidence collection, about 2 years will be needed to generate the needed update as between 2012 and 2020 over 2000 publications from that period will need appraisal. The Board of Trustees therefore approved a target date for completion of late 2021. As regards placement of the list pages on line the first step was to create this website and the second, adding the display of the list pages in a form compatible with on-line display (which means no pages numbers are shown and footnotes are placed at the end of each listed family), was achieved in January 2020.

After 2021 participation in a unified checklist may look more sensible.

However, as a Charitable Trust, TAS has to consider protecting its Intellectual Property (the most substantial of its assets). Giving away Intellectual Property or voiding its value by handing it over to another body that may or may not continue in perpetuity may not, in the eyes of the Charity Commission, be appropriate governance.