Language of Descriptions

Thu Oct 26 16:43:50 CDT 1995

The discussions from Botanists show a real difference from the realities
of zoology.  We have families of animals that are larger than all the
flowering plants together, yet far fewer (like 2 orders of magnitude fewer)
animal systematists per species.  Botanists describe only a few (relative
to zoology) species per year, with lots of specialists.  Because things
are so well known, and there are so few per specialist, botanists seem
content to be able to read only the descriptions of new taxa, which are
the only things in latin (and often that "description" is really a

Zoologists, on the other hand, work in a different world.  For many of
us, 90% of our organisms remain undescribed.  Any given description by
itself is relatively useless when the next new thing pops up.  We need
to read the whole paper!  Most of what I find useful in a paper is outside
the diagnosis.

Lastly, because there are so many botanists with so few species to describe,
botany can afford a few latin scholars to check descriptions.  Note that
both the recent botanists replying mentioned having this done.  Zoology
doesn't have this luxury.  Imagine the equivelant of redescribing all the
vascular plants from scratch every 10 years!  Your latin scholars would
be swamped.

In short, zoologists have a different problem, and the botanical solution,
while quaint, is not a good model for us.  We are glad you are happy with
it, but it just won't export.

Besides, since the latin description is only required in the original
descriptions, how do you evaluate any subsequent revisions?  Surely the
descriptions in Chinese in a 1989 monograph are more important that the
original description of that same species, in latin, from 1840?

Mike Ivie

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