Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ant Wars

Citations in Ant Publications

It is the rule in scientific publications, that a source is given for facts and ideas, which do not belong to the authors. The number of how many ants there are belongs to this categorie. However, despite some recently published figures in some of my papers (e.g. 1, 2) , and indeed an online service providing a continuously updated known figure of ants provided through antbase/Hymenoptera Name Server, the figure is given in journals, but without a citation.

The latest example is Moreau et al.'s phylogeny of ants in Science, another by Wilson and Hölldobler on The rise of the ants: a Phylogenetic and ecological explanation in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When I asked Hölldobler about the source of the number of ants, he replied that this was just an intelligent estimate. It seems to me pretty odd to cite approx. 11,000 species, when a figure of a little more than 11,000 has been published in the mentioned sources above - a figure, which nobody could have expected, after Bolton published in his New general catalogue of the ants of the world a figure of 9536 species by 1995. Nobody would have expected a such strong surge in the discovery and descriptions of more than 1,500 new ant species or and addition of 15% of the total ant fauna. And only since we have the Internet, we have a chance to figure out the total number of taxonomists working on a partiular taxon, such as the ants (see the list of ant taxonomists. It is even difficult to keep up updating the list, for reasons see a forthcoming blog on community involvement), or the systematics publications of the last ten years.

Actually, the reason why I asked Bert Hölldobler was, that I pointed out to editor of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that my name has been lost in a citation in Eusociality: Origin and consequences. The citation is the one of Ward (2000) referring to an article in a book, co-edited with four colleagues with me as senior editor. In this reference, my name as senior author suddenly did not appear. After some time, this has been corrected by PNAS (but not in the original article linked to above), and the reasons by the authors was simply, that the name has been lost when copy/pasting this citation from an earlier paper they published in the same journal.
Being cited in important journals is a very important element in one's scientific evaluation. Being deleted from a paper, which might be cited widely, could thus have an adversarial effect - a tool of the toolkits in scientific turf wars.
I must admit, I found it (and still do so) hard to believe, that exactly one noun could have been lost in the middle of a long string of words, a noun which is a name of a colleague, told explicitely to be careful about future comments on one of the authors (Wilson). The comment "you are hypersensitive!!!!!!" in a separate email by Wilson's secretary did not defuse the situation either.

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