Paratype definition revisited

Timothy S. Ross rosst at CGS.EDU
Tue Jan 2 21:02:30 CST 1996

Best wishes for a FELIX ANNVS NOVVS.  My apologies for posting the "ICBN
CLARIFICATION SOUGHT" and then disappearing from the net for two weeks.  I
was taking some accrued vacation and the last couple of times that I came
in to check my e-mail, the Vax at the graduate school was officially "down"
for official tinkering.
        I received a few direct responses to my posting as well as the few
that ramified on TAXACOM.  What was interesting to me was that there were
some respondents who take the Code very literally, despite potential
shortcomings of wording, and there were others who seemed to follow more of
a "spiritual" interpretation of the Code.  Robert Mill (Edinburgh), in a
posting on the 18th, actually made several points that I had intended to
add in my follow-up (if only I could have gotten on the Dag-nab machine).

        The crux of the problem that I presented on December 17th is in the
definition of "paratype" as provided in the current edition of the ICBN.
Article 9.5 defines it as:  "A paratype is a specimen cited in the
protologue* that is neither the holotype nor an isotype, nor one of the
syntypes if two or more specimens were simultaneously designated as types".
That's the whole definition.  The profound deficiency of this statement is
that "paratype" is not defined by WHAT IT IS, but rather it is defined by
WHERE IT IS ("in the protologue") and WHAT IT IS NOT (it is not a holotype,
an isotype, or a syntype).  This is why I labeled it a "cookie-cutter
definition".  If the protologue is the rolled cookie dough, and the
holotype, isotypes, or syntypes are the star-shaped and angel-shaped
cookies that are stamped out, then all of the misshapen, detrital dough
blobs that are left over become the Paratype cookies.  [My heart-felt
apologies to all readers who are not INFPs or INTPs and who don't typically
deal in stretched metaphors.**]
        The extrapolational perils of this kind of non-definition are
generally well-known.  If a toddler asks me what an airplane/aeroplane is,
and I define it by saying, "Well, Little Billy-Bob, it's a thing with wings
that you see in the sky (WHERE IT IS) that isn't a bird or a butterfly
(WHAT IT IS NOT)...", then Little Billy-Bob may grow up to believe that
pipistrelles, hang-gliders, and dragonflies are also airplanes, but may
wonder what each of these becomes when it is no longer seen in the sky.
Supposing that when Billy-Bob turns 42 years of age, he has seen and heard
enough that conflicts with my non-definition that he approaches me again
seeking clarification, but the only definition that I can give him is still
the same non-definition that I gave him when he was a toddler.  It's likely
that Billy-Bob is either going to quietly wonder about my competence, or
he's going to outright tell me, "screw you, you blithering old man."  In
the former case, I wouldn't feel good about Billy-Bob's questioning my
competence, but I might remain unaware of his dissatisfaction with my
definition; in the latter case, I might try to beat the tar out of
disrespectful Billy-Bob, and when the scuffle has ceased and I'm hiding his
body and straightening up the room, I might give some thought as to why my
definition did not meet with his approval.
        Certainly, defining what something IS may be much more difficult
than defining what something IS NOT ("Life is what dead creatures don't
have"), but if it is done carefully and conscientiously then it eliminates
a much greater opportunity for extrapolational error.  Perhaps the core
matter that perplexes me here is how the ICBN -- the product of decades of
philosophical and semantic debate and deliberation among many of the
world's foremost botanists -- can codify such a vague and impractical
        Article 9.5 is followed by 1 example and 1 note, neither of which
clarifies the ambiguity established by the non-definition of paratype in
the Article.  My recommendation is that Article 9.5 either be modified to
clearly define what a paratype IS, or add a second Note below the article
that clearly states what seems to be a widely held understanding:  i.e.,
that paratypes may be designated in the protologue and additional specimens
may be cited in the protologue without them being automatically treated as
paratypes.  My preference is for the former, which deals more directly with
the problem, rather than the latter, which would be like trimming the
toenails on the back feet of a grizzly bear when it was the toenails on his
front feet that mangled your face.

[*P.S. -- "Protologue" is defined as "everything associated with a name at
its valid publication, i.e., description or diagnosis, illustrations,
references, synonymy, geographical data, CITATION OF SPECIMENS, discussion,
and comments.  (Footnote, p. 10, Tokyo Code, 1994).]

[**P.P.S. -- For those unfamiliar with the allusion to INFPs and INTPs,
these are human personality categories based on the Myers-Briggs
Psychological Types.  Each of these two types constitutes about 1% of the
human population, and INFPs in particular have a habit of "straining
metaphors and similes."  I'm borderline between the two types, based on the
last time I was tested (ca. 9.5 years ago).  Having met a broad diversity
of taxonomists, I am willing to bet good money that INFPs and INTPs
constitute much more than 2% of the Taxacomers, though.]

Post post post scriptum:  I like Richard Jensen's suggestion of
        "Nomen resurrectum."  Any chance we can codify this, or is
        the ICBN really the formalized dictum of an oligarchy?

Sr. Curatorial Asst.
RSA-POM Herbarium
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
1500 North College Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711, U.S.A.
(909) 625-8767 ext. 233
FAX (909) 626-7670
rosst at

"At the end of a fortnight, I fired myself for willful incompetence."
              -- Donald Culross Peattie (The Road of a Naturalist, 1941)

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