Formality of Latin description

Wolfgang Wuster w.wuster at BANGOR.AC.UK
Wed Nov 22 17:04:47 CST 1995

On Wed, 22 Nov 1995, Joseph H. Kirkbride, Jr. wrote:

> I suspect that Wolgang does not do any systematic work with tropical
> organisms, or he has a really tame group of yes-sir collaborators.

As it happens, I work on the systematics of a group of South American
snakes, in close collaboration (yes, as equals) with research institutes
in Brazil and Ecuador. And no, they are not tame yes-sir collaborators.
Zero out of two for your powers of deduction.

> In preparation for the last International Botanocal Congress, there were
> two committees on registration of journals and on registration of names.
> They were supposed to report to the nomenclature section of the Bot.
> Congress.  I asked my South American colleagues, whom I consider to be my
> equals, in systematic botany for their opinions on registration of journals
> and names.  On journal registration they all were absolutely opposed to
> it.  One person told me that it was an attempt to stop systematic work in
> Latin America and that we, North American and European botanists, should
> never plan on visiting his country again if journal registration was
> enacted.  Fortunately the "message" was delivered, and the committee on
> journal regsitration simply vanished.

Presumably, the very negative response was on the basis that the Latin
American colleagues assumed that L. Am. journals would not be included? I
certainly do not advocate this. There are a number of fine journals
published in those countries which should be on any such lists (and
should generally receive more attention in the "First World"). There
are many journals published in Europe or N. America which should not be.

> Registration of journals and names seem like potentially good ideas, but
> most botanists see them as mechanisms to give control of systemtics to a
> small group of people who will be making the decisions.

This need not be the case if strict guidelines for inclusion/exclusion
are laid down, and based on a broad exercise in consultation, including
scientists from all parts of the world.

> Who has the right to publish new names, and who does not?

Everybody has the right to describe new taxa. However, everybody should
also be exposed to a quality control process. Systematics forms the basis
for the rest of biology, and poor systematics can therefore screw up a
lot of people's work. Furthermore, unlike in the case of other
disciplines, a piece of bad taxonomy cannot be ignored, as it will have
and continue to have implications in nomenclature.

Why should there not be some mechanism of quality control, applicable
equally to all scientists?

Clearly, any such scheme would generate a lot of controversy, but we
should go a little bit further than a first kneejerk reaction when
discussing such proposals.

Wolfgang Wuster
School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, UK
e-mail: w.wuster at

Thought for the day: If you see a light at the end of the tunnel,
it is probably a train coming your way.

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