FW: Rejected posting to TAXACOM at USOBI.ORG

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Thu Aug 1 14:41:38 CDT 2002

This (response to Ron's earlier post) originally was rejected by the Taxacom
sever because it was too long (what??? **ME** write a post that was too
long?!?! Impossible!). So here's a truncated version:

> Red Flag one.  "At the beginning".  Famous last words.  Elect me and I
> promise I won't become a dictator.

Ummm....don't be so melodramatic. I (tried to?) elaborate in my original
message the ways that I imagine it would evolve.  The whole NATURE of the
IC_N Codes is that they are dynamic, which is why they periodically are
revised from time to time. Usually this is done in a DEMOCRATIC fashion, and
I see no reason why this wouldn't continue to be so.  Unless, of course, you
currently regard the ICZN as a dictator....

> Red Flag two. "Still need.."   Well, if this does not reflect a basic
> disrespect for Codes I don't know what does.

Again, I left it open only because the Codes are *meant* to be revised over
time, as the technology allows, and as the taxonomic community needs (or
"dictates", if you prefer).

> The Code is first and stays first.

Absolutely!  That's why the registration system would be included in, remain
an integral part of, and indeed be DEFINED by the Codes themselves.

> Red Flag three.  Naivety - "it's just this one tiny.."  If that is all it
> would ever be, maybe.

That's NOT all it would ever be -- it would undoubtedly evolve over time -
via the same "selective" pressure that all the articles in the Code are
subjected to -- i.e., the will of the taxonomic community of the time.  We
who operate at the hairy edge of advanced diving technology have a saying
(coined by the world-renown decompression physiologist Dr. Bill Hamilton):
"What works, works."  It's a general truism for many things that are
difficult to model (like decompression physiology and taxonomy), and thus
can only really be tested by empirical application.  The appropriateness of
the modifications to Code rules operate in this fashion. It's why the Codes
evolve over time. Should the Codes should be frozen forever into perpetuity?
Maybe we should go back to the very first editions of each Code and restore
them as the current versions, regarding all subsequent modifications as
subversive efforts on the part of the IC_N "dictators" to rob the taxonomist
people of their freedoms? :-)

> I don't think anyone in their right mind would object to an easy access
> resource that would contain a listing of all names (available ones) with
> date of/in publication reference.  I think we all see a need for more and
> better accessible databased nomenclature.  It is enevitable and good that
> one day something will be on line as a valuable _starting point_ is
> tracking down and assessing published nomenclature.

Good!  Then we do agree.

> We are not really talking about making needed data more and
> readily available - we are talking about control, certification,
> validation.  If one's taxonomic name is not on file it is no good
> or of any use to anyone and is forbidden to be employed by anyone.

Like I said, "Rubbish!" -- at least in the context of what I (and I'm pretty
sure others) are suggesting. Consider the above quote of yours, modified as

> We are not really talking about making needed data more and
> readily available - we are talking about control, certification,
> validation.  If one's taxonomic name is not published in accordance
> with Articles 7-9 of the ICZN Code it is no good or of any use to
> anyone and is forbidden to be employed by anyone.

Assemble the rebels!  Let's take these ICZN dictators by storm!  Their
leader (the so-called "President" - Ha! As if they were a democracy!) is the
Chair of my own department!  I'll capture him and then we, the taxonomists,
will be free to publish new names in any comic book we please!  Viva la
revolution! :-)

> Now it is simple to know why it would _have to be_ this way if such a
> system was to be created.  Principle:  A law without a penalty is only a
> suggestion.  Application of that principle here.  If we only _suggest_ (no
> plenary powers) that names be submitted to such a list, we known that many
> will not do so.

Exactly - hence the need to incorporate it as a legitimate IC_N Rule, I
imagine within Article 8 (perhaps as Steve suggested, but I'm a bit more
conservative and would like to see it added first as an additional
requirement to making a name available, rather than a replacement to the
existing publication guidelines).

> This goes far beyond the plenary powers of the exicting ICZN, ICBN etc.

How is it any different from the existing rules RE publication?

> First, the initial creation of such a list (allbiota.org) would take years
> and that = lots of money.

No it wouldn't -- it would take a computer nerd maybe a week or two (at
most) to set up the non-mandatory prototype, which willing taxonomic
participants would test-drive in a non-Code-required way to see if the
concept basically worked.  The next time the Code came up for review, the
Draft would include a provision to include Registration as a mandatory part
of making the name available, based on the test-drive experience as a guide.
The topic would be debated in the same way that all current draft
modifications to the codes are peer-reviewed, and this time maybe rational
heads would prevail (or someone would find a real legitimate reason not to
do it, which is what my original post to Taxacom was a plea for). While the
draft is in circulation, TDWG would hammer out the details for the
synchronization protocol, the source code developed by that computer nerd
(it could even be a biologist computer nerd - these sorts of sever systems
are not exactly rocket science -- on par with many of the existing online
taxonomic databases currently available) would become public domain, and
severs around the world would mirror the registration site at will. That's
how I would envision it, anyway.

> It is not a matter of "just typing" in all the names that
> are - because many of those names are _not_ Code "available".   It would
> wreck havoc to take any unresearched and unavailable names and suddenly
> make them "available" by just smacking them down on a list some place.

Again, I think you missed my point of how this thing would operate.  To make
it clear, it would NOT replace the existing system -- just enhance it.  In
time, as the WILL OF THE TAXONOMIC MAJORITY saw fit, gradually the "candles"
of an era past would be replaced by electric light bulbs (high-intensity
LEDs?), and the whole concept of "publication" would be streamlined into a
digital system We could look towards the Bactiral folks asnd their Code as a
guide.  This would not be directed by any "dictators", other than to the
extent that the Taxonomic scientific community ALREADY "dictates" to the
rest of the world how scientific names come to be "available" and "valid".

> The word "available" looks simple - but in code compliant terms it is not
> simple at all.  -- Names would be put on that shouldn't be there.

In very much the same way that names are currently published in accordance
with Articles 7-9, but which fail to meet availability for other reasons.
Registriation doesn't hurt us here, but it might help us track down some of
the ones that "shouldn't" be there.

> Further, many names would be omitted due to their obscurity without
> diligent research.

How would this be different from the way things are now?

> One would have to enlist (hire) dozens or scores of specialists to fine
> tooth comb the literature and properly research every name to
> determine its availability.

No, they wouldn't.  Let me try to clarify where I'm coming from:

This statement would NOT be true, in my mind:
"Registered" = "Available"

This statement WOULD be true:
"Registered" + "ComplianceWithAllOtherCodeRequirements" = "Available"

> This is occurring daily already - and has been going on
> forever, it is called practical working taxonomy.

And why would it stop with the addition of Registration?

> So all
> this talk of simply making a list of all the available names of
> the world's
> biota is almost laughable to this working taxonomist.  If it could be done
> it would have already been done - on paper.

Yes, I know a List "could" be done on paper; but without the power of the
internet to revolutionize *how* it is done ("Once Digitized, always
available."), it was understandably unfeasible -- in much the way that an
initiative to put a moan on the moon in the early part of the 20th century
would have been unfeasible.  It is now technologically feasible.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be socially/politically feasible with the
maverick, individualist, decidedly-not-engineer-like taxonomic community.

> Which I guess is a bottom line for me.   The names I need are not _there_
> on a web site (or paper) list, they are _there_ in the literature itself.

Yes, I agree -- but bear in mind these two things:

1. The names that are _there_ in the literature collectively represent
something on the order of about 10% (give or take half an order of
magnitude) of the names that will (should?) eventually exist (not including
future synonym names which, one would hope, would drop in frequency with
better access to information).  Why not establish a system to help organize
the remaining 90%?

2. "Once digitized, always available."  Harnessing the power of the internet
means that only ONE person needs dig through the old literature, ONE time
only.  Everyone else, into perpetuity, would be alleviated of that need (not
because we trust that ONE person to get ti right, but because that person
would make an image of the original description available electronically for
all to see at leisure).

> By the very nature of the game of how systematics and nomenclature work
> together, one can never get away from the hours (years) of wading through
> all that is published.

Well, one can certainly convert the "years" into "hours" by using an
electronic means of information exchange.  Imagine that, instead of having
to comb through libraries, wait for inter-library loans, etc., that original
descriptions (in their original, imaged, PDF'd form) would be just a
mouse-click away. I'm right now in the midst of creating this exact
"Taxonomic Utopia" on my own laptop, for the taxa that I work on, and I
gotta tell you -- it takes a LOT less time to simply click my mouse than it
does to even walk over to my Reprint file cabinet, let alone drive down to
the University library and find some obscure journal, let alone wait for an
inter-library loan....etc.

> This is about so much more than just knowing a
> "name" is available.

Yes, and biology is "so much more" than just taxonomy.  Yet taxonomy SURELY
helps the rest of biology in many ways. I think an incredibly sound case can
be made that "Registration" will help taxonomy in so many ways.

> One needs all the informational aspects surrounding
> such names before any of them can be properly applied to specific taxa.

And increasingly, those aspects are becoming more and more available
electronically, instantly.  Not to replace the work of the taxonomist -- but
to alleviate the taxonomist of the need of so much drudgery, so she can
focus on the real skills her art & science require.


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