JOSEPH E. LAFERRIERE
josephl at AZTEC.ASU.EDU
Sun Jul 26 15:58:57 CDT 1998
Let us take the argument over registration of new plant
names down to its essence. As Hugh Wilson suggests, many
biologists, he and me included, feel that the present system
is imperfect and in need of improvement. He and I find
no disagreement so far. But saying "The system is flawed" is
easy. The difficult part is finding a proposal that improves
the system rather than making it worse.
Biologists have long used references such as Index
Kewensis to locate the original place of publication of
plant names. This is of course essential in taxonomic work.
The move is afoot in recent years to computerize the task. Fine.
A central on-line database containing all this information
would be very useful. But the flaw is in names published in
obscure places. The editors of Index Kewensis, despite their
diligent efforts, occasionally overlook a name or two. The fear
is that a computerized system replacing this time-honored
institution will overlook an occasional name or two as well. I
have no statistics on the subject, but I suspect that IK does
contain well over 99% of the names validly published. My
guess would be somewhere around 99.999999999999%.
There are two possible solutions to the problem of names
overlooked because they are published in obscure places:
1) Declare that they are not validly published simply because the
powers-that-be do not know of them, or
2) Make a more concerted effort to search out and include such
items in the central database.
Granted that solution #2 will be imperfect and will result
in an occasional name in an obscure periodical (e.g. the
Dandy Dime) being overlooked. It seems to me, however, that
reconciling ourselves to such a minor, occasional inconvenience
is not unreasonable. Adopting solution #1, which is in essence
the registration proposal, is like using a nuclear bomb to swat
Dr. Joseph E. Laferriere
"Computito ergo sum ... I link therefore I am."
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