codens, continued

Luis A. Ruedas usr7933a at TSO.UC.EDU
Sat May 7 13:21:00 CDT 1994


If I may, I would like to add yet another, additional perspective on
codens.  Perhaps what we should start with is a clear statement of
what the purpose is for generating such a unified worldwide list of
institutions.  I am looking at the smaller picture, rather than the
big picture, perhaps, but it seems to me that, at the present time,
the need for a unified list of codens may not be a critical one.

Robert Robbins writes:

> Let me second Julian's point as strongly as possible.  Any attempt
> to produce stable identifiers with historical or present semantic
> content will fail.  Even if everybody were to agree, the existence
> of codens that looked familiar but in fact contained changed values
> would be a source of endless confusion.

True indeed: are there collections large enough that they need to have
such a worldwide list on hand?  Most collections that I have dealt
with (from very small to very large) have a very limited number of
donated specimens, or at least, specimens donated from a limited
number of other institutions.  Such matters easily are dealt with with
a string in the comments section of the catalogue (if computerised) or
with a brief comment in the hard-copy catalogue if not computerised.

Were the case to be that a relatively large collection was
deaccessioned from one institution and found its way to a different
institution, I should think that it would be quite easy to customise a
particular field within the cataloguing program to accept a single
letter and translate that to the name of the donating institution,
thereby facilitating the cataloguers' task.  I only have dealt with
the Questor museum software, but I suspect DBase or Muse are capable
of such relatively trivial feats.  The local solution to such a
problem astutely was proposed by Robbins:

> The trick is to delegate responsibility to the lowest APPROPRIATE
> level.

In my experience, such matters easily are dealt with within particular
institutions (or their databases/catalogues).  I fail to see the
stated need for some central authority.  That would only sponge up
already thin resources.

The only other place where I have seen such codens is in the
literature, in the "Specimens Examined" sections of taxonomic papers
(might I interject here a personal peave ==> these sections are
becoming rarer and rarer throughout the literature but they remain
critical to the continuity and integrity of systematics.  Please make
an effort to incorporate such a section into any work that you carry
out to publication, and beat the same philosophy into your graduate
students, colleagues, and co-workers <== end personal peave!).  All of
these begin with the same "wrote" phrase: something to the effect of
"...numbers and institutions (abbreviations in parentheses) follow.
Abbreviations are: American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), Museum
Zoologicum Bogoriense (MZB);" ... etc.

In other words, such papers define their own institutional codens.  Is
this a problem?  As long as it is defined in the text, I do not think
so.  The same applies to measurements used in morphometric studies.
All are habitually defined in the text, because although certain
individuals may use the same names for a measure, it is not a given
that the measurement was performed in the same manner.  Indeed, it may
quite well be that the same name may apply to different measures, or
different names to the same measure.  Typically, we are talking of
three to ten such codens definitions.  Certainly, any editor would be
remiss in his/her duties were he/she to let slip by an undefined term.

Finally, there remains an aspect of this problem that may have been
overlooked by some throughout this discussion.  Irrespective of
whether such a wordwide list were available through a computer system
(e.g. Gopher), or as part of the ICZN's Code, we still would be
cheating the greater part of the world from following such a system.
Imagine yourself a systematist in just about any country outside of
North America and Europe.  Do we really believe that there is ready
access to computer net capabilities in such circumstances?  Consider
also, how many systematists in Europe and North America own a personal
copy of the Code?  Most probably rely on a library copy.  Are such
copies available readily in libraries in developping nations?
Certainly, if I were an investigator in such a situation I would
prefer to spend my meager resources on journals (if it were a matter
exclusively of a library budget) or on research equipment or research
trips.  What would such an investigator do when faced with a paper in
a journal that says no more than: "...standard museum codici (or
whatever the plural of codens is) follow ICZN (19XX).  Aus bus, 3454
(XYZ); Bus cus, 65645 (DTZZ);..."  For such an individual, is this a
better system than having the abbreviations defined in the text?
Indeed, even for someone with access to the Code, is this a better
system?  I for one would rather turn back a few pages, if I do not
remember an abbreviation, than have to refer to a book or computer net
that I may or may not have access to.  Certainly these are not trivial
considerations.  We must not allow what some have termed scientific
imperialism to degenerate/transform into scientific provincialism by
forgetting that there exists an entire consituency unable to access
computer nets or esoteric volumes.

It is quite possible that the opinions I have expressed are retrograde
and paleolithic, and that there is a real exigency for such a
worldwide list.  If that is the case, I apologise for offending any
sensibilities.  Nevertheless, at present, what this whole thing boils
down to for me is the following: do we invest valuable time and effort
in an endeavour that has simple solutions at the local level, or do
we, as sytematists, go on with our chosen task (hopefully: vocation)
of documenting and conserving the living world's patterns and
processes of biodiversity?  I know what I'd rather spend my time
doing.


Luis A. Ruedas
Thomas More College
Ohio River Biological Station
usr7933a at tso.uc.edu




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