Article 71

Curtis Clark jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU
Thu Mar 16 13:36:52 CST 1995

Date sent: 16-MAR-1995

 >Regarding the evils of present nomenclature, one might accuse
 >binomialism as a root cause of much trouble. If we gave each basic unit
 >of taxonomy a number instead of a name that required a decision about
 >what group it belonged to, we could decouple nomenclature and changes in
 >classification due to advances in phylogenetic systematics.
 >For instance, conservationists, ecologists and lawyers would applaud our
 >giving the tomato a scientific uninomial, say 453456798, that would not
 >change with regrouping from Lycopersicon to Solanum and back again. With
 >computerization, why, we could even do it!

Wouldn't work.  If the "basic unit of taxonomy" were the individual, then
every specimen would be a "type" (*I* would be a type! *You* would be
a type!), but a nine-digit number wouldn't be long enough, and the basic
human propensity for classification, grouping by affinity, would be unmet.
If the basic unit were the species, such as the example, or any other
taxon, the problems would be restricted, but not eliminated.  Let's say
that Eschscholzia californica were 583519982 and Eschscholzia mexicana
were 402019779 (these are both Anthophyta: Papaveraceae, btw).  I come
along and say "E. californica and E. mexicana are the same species."
Okay, which number does the combined species get?  Someone else divides
E. californica into three species.  Which one gets the original number?
The *only* advantage of such a system is that it would eliminate similar
problems at higher levels, since there wouldn't be any higher levels.

A major point of systematics is to group organisms.  Grouping anything
where the concepts of group membership are subject to change is going to
have problems.  If we stabilize group membership ("set the
taxa in stone"), we are no longer scientists.  If we give up grouping,
we are no longer systematists, and we will be leaving to others that
important task.  If we do both, nomenclature is a small price to pay.

Curtis Clark                                       Voice: (909) 869-4062
Biological Sciences Department                     FAX:   (909) 869-4396
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Pomona CA 91768-4032                               jcclark at

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