We can dream, can't we?

christian thompson cthompson at SEL.BARC.USDA.GOV
Thu Oct 11 13:18:36 CDT 2001

What Derek dreams of isn't that far off. It only needs $$$

Want unique numbers for scientific names. ITIS (Integrated Taxonomic
Information System) already provides these.

Yes, ITIS doesn't cover all names yet. But there are people building Name
databases (=Nomenclators) for many major groups. Flies, which represent 10%
of the World's Known biodiversity are being covered by the BioSystematic
Database of World Diptera. We have some 200,000 names in our Nomenclator
today (see us under Names at www.diptera.org). Our recn number is stable.

Some of the problems that people see are not really that difficult, such as
agreement between adjectival epithets and the genus-group name. Margaret
Thayer has a reasonable solution. And for perhap 80-90% of the names, her
approach can be automated. First code your genus-group names for gender.
This is relatively simple when one asks the computer to reverse the name and
then sorts and codes on these names as all the su (us...), sedio (...oides),
amos (...soma), etc.,  now can be easily found. And the rules for gender of
names (Art. 30) cover 80-90% of the names (or at least that was our
experience with 25,000 Diptere genus group names). Then one codes the
epithets as either invariant or not. And  again the vast majority fall into
a few simple classes, like -us, -a & -um. Unlike Margaret I would not store
all the various ending in the name record, but those classes in a related
file, etc. As for the difficulties with ancient languages, look at the Latin
translator at www.levity.com/alchemy/latin/latintrans.html. Computer are
getting better.

However, Doug is correct about one thing. A specialist needs to re-examine
each and every original description, to ensure that the name is properly
indexed. For example, in Systema Naturae, Linnaeus spelt Equus as Eqvus! One
also need to correctly circumscribe the type series and type locality.  Too
many errors have accumulated over the years from one catalogger simply
copying the work of his predescessor, etc.

And now that more and more museums are databasing their type specimens
(like the fine job now being done at the Museum of Comparative Zoology (see
www.mcz.harvard.edu/departments/entomology/) putting URLs into one
nomenclators is an no-brainer.

The only real problem with our dreams is not the dreams themselves which
practical realities but the necessary funding to do the work. IF the
systematics community had the same level of funding that the human genome
project had, then cataloging the existing names for all life would be


F. Christian Thompson
Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS, USDA
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D. C. 20560-0169
(202) 382-1800 voice
(202) 786-9422 FAX
cthompso at sel.barc.usda.gov [NB: no terminal "n"]
visit our Diptera site at www.diptera.org

>>> Derek Sikes <dss95002 at UCONNVM.UCONN.EDU> 10/11 11:32 AM >>>
Re: assignment of a unique number to each original combination
dss95002 at uconnvm.uconn.edu

..I confess I often feel wearied with the work, and cannot help
sometimes asking myself what is the good of spending a week or a fortnight
in ascertaining that certain just perceptible differences
blend together and constitute varieties and not species...What
miserable work, again, it is searching for priority of names.
- Charles Darwin

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