Splitters and Lumpers

Geoff Witten gjw at RMIT.EDU.AU
Thu Feb 18 16:58:49 CST 1999

At 16:29 17/02/99 -0800, Peter Rauch wrote:
>On Wed, 17 Feb 1999, Petra Sierwald wrote:
snip, snip
>> I am grateful for this discussion, because as an editor of an arachnology
>> journal I will now pay closest attention to the publication of new species
>> under such circumstances.  It is here where editors, the reviewers and
>> scientific societies must protect the integrity of taxonomy and
>> The selling of names has the potential to destroy systematics. And with
>> still too many journals not having proper review procedures in place, this
>> danger is real.
>But, that state of affairs (not having proper review procedures in
>place, but publishing new taxa anyway) exists, and has existed, forever.
>It seems that this _the_ problem which needs to be addressed, and not
>its surrogate (sales of new taxon names). Sale of names might highlight
>the problem, and might even exacerbate it, but bad taxonomy is bad
>taxonomy, and rules of nomenclature and/or editorial practices which
>allow it to easily occur need to be addressed. Then, "sale" of names
>will be carried on legitimately, presumably.
Australian herpetology has suffered the problems of Wells and Wellington
(two well-intentioned but clumsy amateurs) who were among the first
desk-top publishers to create numerous synonyms and unsupportable generic
names with dubious boundaries.  When professional Australian herpetologists
applied for suppression of their names we were knocked back politely,
because there are many who would prefer not to discourage anyone prepared
to do the basic nomenclatural work.

The present thread on the auctioning of names raises the threat of
nomenclatural cowboys again.  One of Wells and Wellingtons followers has
recently descibed a couple of variant individual snakes as a new genus and
species.  This was in a nominally reviewed article in a reptile keepers
journal.  At the risk of being branded elitist, I consider there is a case
for accepting only names published in professionally reviewed articles.  If
some of the potential results mentioned in earlier threads about internet
vs paper publications were realised we could end up with the ultimate
nightmare of a totally destabilized nomenclature.

There is no reason why nurserymen should not use varietal names, nor should
reptile keepers be prevented from recognising variants of snakes and
lizards. In fact I had a king brown with all divided subcaudals about
thirty years ago.  If I still had the specimen I, too, could name a new
genus and species with as much validity as the recent "species" with all
single subcaudals. As one who has suffered the slings and arrows of
outraged amateurs I would prefer to limit the recognition of new taxa to
properly reviewed articles.

Geoff Witten

Geoff Witten
Department of Human Biology and Movement Science
PO Box 71
BUNDOORA Victoria 3083
Ph 061 03 9925 7589
Fax 061 03 9467 8589

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