Names, Numbers, "Agency buckaroos," etc.

christian thompson cthompson at SEL.BARC.USDA.GOV
Fri Oct 12 08:48:18 CDT 2001

I am sorry that people like Barry think that only "agency buckaroos" work
for your government.

As I said in my message, the gatekeepers at ITIS are US, taxonomists. ITIS
uses the best taxonomy it can find. The Data stewarts are taxonomists trying
to find a consensus taxonomy that can be used for decision-making and that
they believe will also be useful to the community as a whole. And these
taxonomists know the importance of getting the best possible names for taxa,
which may range from endangered species to new exotic pests, as they may be
the basis of critical decisions.

And obviously, Barry didn't clearly read my statements about science. I
wrote the "PROCESS of Science is such that only one hypothesis survives
among conflicting ones." And it doesn't matter to the PROCESS who finds the
evidence that negates a hypothesis. Many US government "buckaroos" have
discovered such evidence in the past and will continue to do so. The process
is based on presentation of evidence (observations), not on who the
presentator works for.

Now to numbers and scientific names. Much has been written and from that it
is clear that numbers are for computers, etc., what they needed but most
people want to retain names. So, what is wrong with having both. If you are
an American, think: You have a Social-Security Number which allow your
government to try to provide BETTER services to you (and perhaps to better
protect you in the future, etc.). And you still use your name for most
social interactions. I suspect that in most develop countries there are
similiar systems that assign numbers to people, and that action doesn't
prevent people from using whatever name they want to. So, why not numbers
for scientific names?

Despite the variety of national and international organizations which have
now declared that they want to build an universal catalog, registry,
rolodex, etc. to either their taxon or all taxa (such as Species2000, ITIS,
GBIF, ALL, IOPI, Fishbase, etc.), what is clear is that everyone of these
systems, projects, proposals, etc., are based on computer technologies that
use Unique (numeric) keys to tag names, whether those key are visiable or
not to the user.

And for the proper interaction among systems, etc., there needs to be
central coordination. The Internet work only because once a small group of
US (="Agency buckaroos") computer people decided on how build such a system
to assign unique numeric addresses (which may also have ALPHA names too).
Yes, computer people surrendered some of their "freedom," but we all got a
very useful system.

As for ITIS it uses a taxonomical serial number. A "social-security-number"
for each name in its system. NOTICE that is for each name, not just each
taxon (and Barry, the decision of what is a scientific name is determined
essentially on the International Codes of Nomenclature, not by some "agency
buckaroo") . So, while it isn't being done now, those unique TSN can be used
by others to build alternative classifications. As Americans know, many
companies, states, universities, banks, etc., use Social-Security-Numbers
for other things, too.  The point is that the number is unique, universal,
etc., BUT does not have any inherent meaning other than that.

And for Doug Yanega, et alia:  ITIS taxonomical files can be downloaded and
use by anyone. Most of the more specialized name databases, such as
FISHBASE, Bill Eschemeyer's Fish Names, the BDWD, the Orthoptera File, etc.,
are also available on CD-ROM. So, one isn't restricted to doing only
on-line, name by name, queries, etc.  What you really wants is an easy way
to integrate all these names into a single system that you can use to curate
your collection. That gets back to unique UNIVERSAL numerical identifiers
for names.  And that will only come from working together. ITIS is trying to
provide that service (and not at $40 per name) and is working with other
efforts such as Species2000 and GBIF to develop the best universal system
for us.

As for Barry, I intentionally used the bin Laden example because this
"agency buckaroo" know even on this subject there are DIFFERENT opinions,
such as whether he is a "freedom-fighter" or a "terrorist." I was not in the
position to make the decision on that, but am very happy that some "agency
buckaroo" has decided how to classify bin Laden and that we are taking
action. But you are still free to have your classification, regardless of
whether "some
agency buckaroo declares 'finis!'" .  However, I think many remain
supportive of "agency buckaroos" who made the decision and acted.

Which leads to the last and critical point. As I wrote  " Pogo once said:
"We have met the enemy; and it is US" Other scientists get together and
build community tools, like GenBank. Taxonomists fight among themselves to
defend their unique worlds. That neither help us getting the support our
science need nor delivers the information that Society wants from us. Many
"agency buckaroos" are merely scientists who know that they have to deliver
something useful to the public so they have to make decisions. As one, I
believe the time has come for taxonomists to unite, work together to produce
something useful, etc.. If we don't those who need our information will
abandon us.

Yes, it is friday and it has been one of those weeks in Washington. Sorry,
but ...

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 [NB: no terminal "n"]
visit our Diptera site at

>>> Barry Roth <barry_roth at YAHOO.COM> 10/11 10:47 PM >>>

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