knowledge of ICBN

Joe Laferriere josephl at CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Thu Jan 11 10:10:45 CST 1996

Yesterday, I read and quickly deleted a couple messages which on further
reflection do seem to merit comment. These dealt with the discussion I
and a few other people have been having over interpretation of the ICBN.
One person said something along the lines of:

"I wonder whether these people really are practicing taxonomists. I have
not checked with Kew to find out."

Gratuitous, condescending personal insults have no place in a profesional
chat line. The person who wrote this should be ashamed for dragging
Taxacom to a new low. Besides, I can think of no reason why a
nonsystematist would be interested in an arcane subject line
lectotypification at all.
   Another person said something like:

"A quick check of journals will show that authorities of generic names
are never printed in the middle of infraspecific names."

My own quick check of journals suggests that most US journals do indeed
do this, while the practice is rarer in European journals. I wonder if
there is a historical explanation for this; I know that 19th Century
American botanists used different practices than their European
colleagues. I wonder this is one remnant of the differing traditions. Can
anybody shed light on this?
   Somebody said that he had had an entire course on nomenclature. I
doubt if many universities have this. Most places teach nomenclature as
part of the general taxonomy courses. In my experience, most taxonomists
have a working knowledge of most of the ICBN, but are a bit vague on more
obscure details like lectotypification rules.
   The reason the ICBN is so complex is so that it can be applied to
people who did not follow it. Nineteenth Century botanists can certainly
be excused for not following our 20th Century rules; even Rafinesque, the
all-time king of mess-makers, can be forgiven to a certain extent [I get
a good chuckle over his stuff myself; I once saw him coin a new name,
then create a homonym for it on the very next line.] Even more recent
botanists can get things wrong. You are welcome to complain about how
incompetent people can be, but the fact remains that others must clean up
their messes. This, indeed, is what started me into delving into the
murky details of the ICBN. My work on Flora Malesiana led me to realize
that the last person to work on my group had not even understood the
basics of the Code, never mind the details. Such a simple concept as the
fact that taxa of different ranks are supposed to be arranged
hierarchically was lost on this guy. It took me a lot of work to clean up
this mess (just published a few weeks a go in Austrobaileya).

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