Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Tue Jun 13 11:59:19 CDT 1995

Alan Whittemore <whittemo at MOBOT.MOBOT.ORG> wrote:

>Regarding Indonesian specimens which were given different species
>names by different taxonomists, Renaud Fortuner wrote:
>> 2) Why were some species misidentified?
>> Identifiers not expert enough? Specimens in poor condition? Use of difficult
>> characters? In other words, look at the confidence factors and try to
>>find out
>> what went wrong.
>How sure are we that these determinations were really wrong?  In the
>current state of the art, many tropical species have multiple names that
>have never been synonymized.  It is entirely possible that both names were
>correct in some (perhaps many) of these cases.  (Of course, there is
>obviously still a problem, but not one of misplaced confidence in the

As an entomologist, this is precisely one of the reasons I previously
suggested the taxonomic key being used was so important; my own example,
sitting right here in front of me, is with US longhorn beetles in the genus
Oberea. I'm preparing a field guide, and there is a new revision in which
numerous species have now been synonymized. Had I undertaken this project 2
years ago, I would have used a 1960's key, and had people identifying
things by all sorts of different names which now appear to be invalid
(including IDs on museum specimens placed there by unquestionable experts).
I don't see how any identification can have a confidence level derived
*without* explicit consideration of the reference work upon which it is
        In the present case, for example, I happen to have had the fortune
of examining some type material which suggests that one of the
newly-published synonymies is itself incorrect. Thus, my identifications of
the species in question will differ from those of everyone else out there,
because I'm using a different reference - in this case, type material.
Which ID has a higher "confidence": one based on a 1960's key, one based on
a 1995 key, or one based on type material? The IDs may all be equally
confident when assigned, but still yield three completely different
results, because they're only as good as what they're based on. If the plan
is to evaluate confidence by comparing IDs from different taxonomists, one
MUST ensure the taxonomists are working from the same reference, or the
comparison is meaningless.

Doug Yanega      Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA     phone (217) 244-6817, fax (217) 333-4949
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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