"arcane" rules/was gender of -opsis

Steve at Steve at
Tue Aug 20 10:26:29 CDT 2002

>the only *absolutely* definitive answer comes when one has the original
descriptions IN HAND


>the original literature is a basic tool of the trade.

No, the basic tool of the trade is specimens, they are the only things that
let us discover "truth".  Publications are little more than one person's
opinion of that "truth".  The true foundation of nomenclature is type
specimens, nothing more.

At the core of this problem is whether we focus on nomenclature or
systematics.  If our focus is nomenclature then learning Latin grammar and
tracking down every single reference ever published over the past 244 years
are important.  If we focus on systematics - the biological part of what we
do - then the types are all we need and nomenclature is nothing more than a
tool.  And if the nomenclatural tool is found to be wanting then we need to
change it.  A Master Craftsman will use some of his grandfather's tools
while others are collecting dust in a museum.  We need to be brave enough to
question what we do and replace those things that no longer contribute to
what we want to achieve - which I would argue is understanding the world
around us.  If changing the spelling of species names when there is a change
in generic assignment contributes to our understanding of the biological
world then by all means lets keep doing it.  But if it only adds to the
"intellectual rigour" of our science then I don't see the point.  There are
plenty of more interesting and important things to spend our time (the tax
payer's money) on than how a word is spelled.  Changing the spelling from
"humilis" to "humile" adds nothing to our understanding of that taxon.  And
if it adds nothing then why do it?

Steve Shattuck
CSIRO Entomology
steve.shattuck at csiro.au

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