"arcane" rules/was gender of -opsis

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Tue Aug 20 07:45:35 CDT 2002

> Yes.  That's what I said.  *A* basic tool.  Not *THE* Basic tool.  *A*
> basic tool.  Of course, without type specimens (or ANY specimens for that
> matter), all the literature is meaningless.

I can stare at a Type specimen all day long, examine its DNA, create a CT
scan of its morphology, and run the data through the most sophisticated
algorithm on the world's fastest computer....and I will NEVER be able to
deduce from that specimen the name for which it serves as Type.

I believe Neal's point is that the "Name" (i.e., nomenclature) can *only* be
defined in terms of its original description as it appears in the
literature.  This is because a name is a human construct, not a biological
entity.  If all literature pertaining to names without the context of type
specimens is meaningless, then we have a lot of "meaningless" names out
there in current use.  However, whereas you cannot deduce a name from a type
specimen, you can often deduce, with reasonable confidence, a species
definition from its original description.  If all traces of Linnaeus'
remains were to be destroyed, would the species concept of "Homo sapiens"
become meaningless?  An extreme case to be sure, but many other examples
exist where species morphology/biogeography is so distinct and unambiguous,
that an original description can serve as an adequate linkage between the
human construct (name), and the biological world.  I agree, this role
(linking names to biology) is far-better served by an unambiguously
designated single type specimen.  The type specimen serves as the stem of
the umbrella that represents a species concept (the outer edges of the
umbrella rim representing the scope of past, present, and future individual
organisms who share closer kinship with that type specimen than with any
other type specimen of what is deemed to be a distinct species).

I think Steve's point (which I also understand and sympathize with) is that
excessive fretting over some of these details of nomenclature may not be the
optimal use of limited global biodollars in terms what it is we are
ultimately trying to achieve as documenters of biodiversity.  I believe that
the playing field has changed somewhat dramatically (in terms of information
technology, and human society in general) since the core principles of the
existing Codes first came to be. Yes, they've been periodically modified
over history -- but only in relatively conservative baby-steps (rightly so,
in my opinion -- given the historical context).  But now we're starting to
bump up against the very real threat of losing large swaths of biodiversity
before we ever have a chance to know that it exists in the first place.
Maybe it's time to lock some of the hard-core Code Warriors in a room with
some folks from the Long Now Foundation (who spend a lot of time thinking
about the longevity of information persistence), and try to hammer out ways
that we can optimally harness information technology to preserve the
intented principles of the original nomenclatural Codes -- with the primary
goal being to streamline the process without compromising the integrity of
the information.


Richard L. Pyle
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
"The opinions expressed are those of the sender, and not necessarily those
of Bishop Museum."

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