Nomenclatural Conventions

Stuart G. Poss Stuart.Poss at USM.EDU
Fri Sep 17 12:47:47 CDT 1999

There are two issues here that are being confused.  I suspect Ken Kinman is
referring to the need for nomenclatural stability rather than stability of a
particular model (theory) of  evolutionary relationships.

One could easily assign names using a cladistic or evolutionary approach or even
a random number generator.  Although the latter approach might be stable,
hopefully most would recognize that it might lead to an understandable and
predictable set of problems in communication, particularly if one decided to
employ the generator function each time one wished to refer to a given taxon.
At the other extreme, some might argue that we could forego the trouble of
having to deal with so many different names at all and achieve nomenclatural
stability by simply requiring all organisms or groups of organisms to have the
same name.  Obviously, this too would lead to yet another set of problems.  The
solution to this nomenclatural conundrum in not one of theory but of convention
, the proclimations of any particular camp notwithstanding.

The point is that a measure of nomenclatural stability is useful to
communicating ideas precisely, regardless of  one's theoretical views.  Would
Einstein's idea regarding the relation between energy, mass, and the speed of
light have been less correct had he chose to phrase it as "X = d (f squared)"?
As such, a "nomenclatural middle ground" alluded to by Ken Kinman might be found
in how nomenclaturally stable we wish our names to be in light on numerous
alternative possible naming conventions.  Indeed, the new code of zoological
nomenclature seems to have reemphasized the importance of established useage to
promote nomenclatural stability.

My own view is that because the propinquity of descent of taxa can only be
indirectly inferred as opposed to directly observed and as a set theoretic
construct, monophyly is a special case of paraphyly (or convexity sesu
Estabrook), paraphyletic taxa will necessarily be more nomenclaturally stable
than monophyletic (holotyphyletic) taxa, one might want to adopt such an
approach, at least in some circumstances, to achieve a greater measure of

However, the cynical side of my nature suspects that most phylogeneticists will
ultimately prefer to adopt a nomenclatural system that promotes nomenclatural
instability, since such a system provides more opportunity for endless arguement
about nomenclatural conventions under the ruse of "correcting" theoretically
flawed names,
perhaps giving all evolutionary biologists that chance of 15 minutes of fame
Andy Worhol alluded to.  Perhaps to this end and to assure nomenclatural
precision we should consider refering to the name of category of greater
taxonomic rank by also including the "author", just as required by the code for
species names.  Scorpaenoidei (of Poss , not of Bleeker, not of ....).  Hey,
that doesn't sound all that bad, but please don't subtract this example from my
15 minutes!

John Grehan wrote:

> I have no familiarity with the classification conundrums regarding the
> higher taxa that are a matter of contention on this list, but
> Ken Kinman's  reference to stable and useful as favorable criteria seems
> to me somewhat artificial and arbitrary. Something may be stable, and even
> seen to be useful, but whether there is any necessary relationship between
> these criteria and the reality to which they refer is another matter. I
> understand
> that the flat earth theory was once a stable view, and probably seen as
> a useful interpretation of the world.

Stuart G. Poss                       E-mail: Stuart.Poss at
Senior Research Scientist & Curator  Tel: (228)872-4238
Gulf Coast Research Laboratory       FAX: (228)872-4204
P.O. Box 7000
Ocean Springs, MS  39566-7000

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