Lectotype rule-change explained

Fri Jan 26 16:47:18 CST 2001

Dear Mick, dear all,

apart from the question what lectotype designations should be
used for, and when, I would like to know what improvement can be
expected from an 'explanation' to be published by Philip Tubbs
or anybody else on this or any other Code matter.

I mean, does the Commission expect every working taxonomist
in all of zoology to spend many a precious hour looking for
'explanations' that might be forthcoming somewhere on the multitude
of Code Articles that are worded in a way that is - to put it mildly -
open to interpretation?

I see two possible reasons for this practice:
1) Articles are worded in an 'open' way in order to not overly restrict
the freedom of taxonomic work.
2) Diplomacy: if Articles were more precise and to a certain point,
there probably would be far more taxonomists out there simply refusing
to deal with the Code because one or the other precise Article rubs them
the wrong way.

But if a certain Article is to be understood in one precise way, then
why can't a new edition of the Code offer a wording of that Article
that cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted? Precision is what the
Code's preamble calls a necessary requirement for what it hopes to
achieve, but a considerable number of Articles are woefully far from
precise. Others again are overly restrictive, but that's another topic.

Lest I be misunderstood: I fully support the notion that taxonomy
could end up in chaos if there wasn't a set of guidelines or rules
for everybody to follow. I have so far tried to follow even those Code
rules whose logic I've found hard to accept, simply because taxonomy
as a scientific discipline must follow the essentials of the scientific
method which calls for all published facts and results to be reproducible
by others. (By the way: that's also a principle clearly ranking higher
than - short- or long-term - nomenclatural stability.) Therefore,
it is better to follow a commonly available set of rules like the Code,
even if it has a few known flaws, rather than forcing the readers of
taxonomic publications to adapt to every single author's personal mix
of Code rules being followed and rules being ignored.

However, as the diverging opinions in this discussion thread attest to
- and there are far more opinions out there not being voiced on this
listserver - the originally valid attempts toward a general Code now
seem to be on the verge of deteriorating to a confusion little better
than that which it set out to replace.

In practice, most of my immediate colleagues have no or only very
fragmentary knowledge of what all is in the Code. Most everybody
seems to just go about their accustomed taxonomic business, probably
hoping nobody will come along later and void their taxonomic actions
because of a Code Article or Commission Opinion. And this non-use
of the Code, whether by ignorance or intent, seems to not be helped
by ever more and increasingly intricate but still imprecise Articles
from Code edition to edition.

This brings us back to my original question:
If the Code has so far failed to make itself known in detail to
enough of those whose work it attempts to coordinate, then how
much more stability is going to be achieved by publishing after-the-fact
interpretations that are going to reach even fewer people and cannot
replace the Code in effect in the first place?

And finally, if you think the altered Article on new lectotype
designations is bad, have a look at Article 75.6 of the fourth edition.
And then back-check the information on important changes, in the
new Code itself and in the circulars that were passed around before
it came into effect, and ask yourself where 75.6 came from.

Back to work. There are some not yet extinct animals
waiting to be preserved.

Martin Spies
Schraemelstr. 151
D-81247 Muenchen

Email: spies at zi.biologie.uni-muenchen.de

Tel. (ZSM) +49 89 8107 153
Fax (ZSM) +49 89 8107 300

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