South Australian Academics in international dispute over scaly scientific fraud.

Media release dated 28 August 2013

A major international row is brewing as a result of three Adelaide-based academics being caught out trying to steal the intellectual property of a NSW-based scientist.
Last week editors of the prestigious scientific journal “Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution” were alerted to the fact that a paper in press contained fraudulent information submitted by Adam Skinner, Mark Hutchinson and Michael Lee. Since then, five of Australia’s leading reptile scientists and specialist taxonomists have slammed the Adelaide-based authors as being “unscientific”, “intellectual thieves” and being in “reckless contempt for the rules of Zoology”.
Skinner and the others issued a pre-publication copy online of a paper purporting to scientifically name two new genera of Australian skink lizards. That in itself wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that both genera had been named in 2009, by Lismore, NSW herpetologist Richard Wells. Under the rules of Zoology overseen by the British-based International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), animals once named, cannot be named again.
While in the past, scientists sometimes overlooked earlier names for the same organisms, this is now virtually unheard of because everything of note is data based at “Zoological Record” and “Index of Organism Names’ (ION), as was the case for the Wells genera.
More significantly, all three authors of the Skinner et al. paper co-signed another paper published in March this year which used the Wells names and cited his 2009 paper naming the genera. This meant that they were well aware of these names at the time they published the paper released this month.
Of even greater significance is their failure to even refer to or cite the 2009 Wells paper in their most recent paper naming the same two genera as “new”. Failure to cite relevant material is known as plagiarisation and one of the most serious crimes an academic can make.
In this case, the three authors, Skinner, Hutchinson and Lee are in effect trying to steal naming rights for two genera of Australian lizard by deliberately creating instability in the Zoological Community. In two similar earlier cases involving Australian reptiles, the ICZN issued rulings condemning the actions of the so-called scientists involved in the attempted theft of naming rights.
Australia’s most respected herpetologists, Raymond Hoser, Harold Cogger, Glen Shea, Ross Wellington and Wells himself have all come out and condemned the actions of Skinner et al. with former ICZN Commissioner, Dr. Cogger saying that the instability caused by the actions of Skinner et al. will, unless retracted immediately, necessitate intervention by the UK-based ICZN.
The ICZN is also currently dealing with similar instability in another action caused by another similar academic fraud. In 2009, Raymond Hoser named a genus of African Spitting Cobras “Spracklandus”. Six months later three academics, Van Wallach, Wolfgang Wuster and Donald Broadley attempted to rename the genus “Afronaja” in direct breach of the Zoological Rules and published widely that the earlier Hoser name should not be used.
While ICZN commissioners have already stated in writing that the Wallach et al. action was illegal, there is still action pending on the matter at the ICZN.
In March 2013, a group including Skinner et al. and Wallach et. al., known as the “Wuster gang”, published a blog calling for the rules of Zoological Nomenclature, in use for more than 200 years to be discarded and for their group of renegades to rename any species they wished. An original hit-list of species and authors to be targetted published last year included about 250 taxa they sought to rename, but this was later increased to about 400. The open-ended list has most recently been further increased to include more than 500 taxa.
If the Wuster gang scheme goes according to plan and expands beyond reptiles (as they have publicly sought), the biggest ever conflict in the global zoological community will likely ensue. This week, the publishers of Molecular Phylogeny and Evolution, Elsiever, said they were dealing with the fraud involving Skinner et al.
Further information:
Raymond Hoser, Melbourne 0412 777 211
Richard Wells, Lismore 0434-832-044

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