"Arcane" / "prevailing usage"

Ron at Ron at
Sun Aug 25 15:53:14 CDT 2002

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dipteryx" <dipteryx at FREELER.NL>
Sent: Sunday, August 25, 2002 6:30 AM
Subject: "Arcane" / "prevailing usage"

> From: Ron Gatrelle <gatrelle at TILS-TTR.ORG>
> > I would argue that one great misnomer regarding the word "stability" is
> that it does not mean unalterable - which I think is how many read it as.
> It means consistency of procedure.
> > The stability in the world of nomenclature is fulfilled when all
> participants are playing by the same rules, or one could say within
> specific rules.  Some play by ICZN rules others by ICBN rules others want
> to play by Phylocode rules etc.
> + + +
 As far as I can see stability means "names not being altered". Certainly
this is the prevailing usage! s.l.  ;-) in the botanical world: see Regnum
Vegetabile 123: _Improving the Stability of Names: Needs and Options_
(1991). Stability has nothing to do with following rules.

Stability is threathened by two types of changes: taxonomic and

Paul van Rijckevorsel

I have received a couple off line posts on this.  I knew when I said this
that it would be controversial.  There are subtitles though that I think
are quite important.  Communicative devices (including these codes) are not
about themselves.  They are about the effective and consistent transfer of
knowledge.   Those who work in the "field" of any particular communicator
have the tendency to view that media as and end in itself rather than as a
vehicle to understanding.  I hold the nomenclature is but the language of
taxonomy.  Which is why I said that "... nomenclature should not get
carried away with itself."  That is, never forget its primary purpose of
being - effective and consistent communication of matters taxonomic.

A _product_ of having clear and predictable mechanical rules of
nomenclature is that when applied properly and consistently names should
not be "being altered" _as long as_ everything in the world of taxonomy
remains the same in relation to the names.  We all use the terms stability
and prevailing usage respective to this.  But I hold that this common and
very evident _effect_ of the rules (codes) is but a fruit and not the root.

Let me quote from the preamble of the ICZN with my emphasis added.  " The
objects of the Code are to promote _stability and universality_ in the
scientific names of animals and to ensure that the name of each taxon is
unique and distinct. All its provisions and recommendations are
_subservient_ to those ends _and_ none restricts the freedom of taxonomic
thought or action."

Now let's look at my statment again.  "I would argue that one great
misnomer regarding the word "stability" is that it does not mean
unalterable - which I think is how many read it as.  It means consistency
of procedure."  When I read the Code saying "stability and universality" I
hear it meaning  "stability (fruit) through universality (root)".
Universality to me = procedure.  Procedure implimneted through rules of
grammar, definitions of terms, precidents and exceptons.  So we have a
"stability" (of names) acheived through consistency of procedure.   But we
do not have unalterability. This is because of the "and".

Taxonomic freedom of thought or action results in frequent shifts from
subspecies to species (and reverse),  species to different genera, and
genera to families,  and families.  All kinds of movement (alteration).
Aus gus fus  to Wus fus.  We find alterability further required through
gender association.when Aus gus fus becomes Rium gium.  There is no such
thing as stability = unalterability.  The rules always remain the same but
the "actions" of taxonomists / taxonomy change the language to communicate
new conceptual organic truth. This is facilitated through alteration of
current combinations and spellings in order to universally convey the new
taxonomic knowledge.

Am I communicating?  The universality of a _scientific name_ (= technical
evolutionary relationship) is only fulfilled when two factors are met.
First (primary) is that the name (taxon) at any given rank conveys a
taxonomic concept.  Secondarily, this name is formulated in a manner that
is according to universally understood linguistic (nomenclatorial) rules.

The object of the ZN code is not to make sure a name never changes.  If
that were so there would not be so many rules on how to change them, or
requiring change.  So no stability = unalterability.  The object is to have
scientific animal names that are stable and universal, or stable because
they are universal both in form and function.  A natural effect of this is
that when constructed properly both taxonomically and nomenclatorially,
they will potentially stay as they are into infinity.   This is the
"stability" (fruit) we see.  But the real stability is the foundational
systems = consistency of procedure.  The former has the illusion at times
of unalterability but not the substance of it.  If they did, then names
would rule taxonomy and we would not have the little word "and" and the
phrase that follows ..."and none restricts the freedom of taxonomic thought
or act-ion.   Taxonomic acts alter nomenclature for nomenclature is but the
(passive) language of (active) taxonomy.

Those who are trying to make the code into a system that keeps scientific
names perpetually unaltered are asking it to do something that ultimately
come into conflict with its master - freedom of taxonomic thought and
action. Even if we throw out gender matching, new combinations still rock
the boat of "prevailing usage"  When two common and well know species
Mitoura siva and Mitoura grynea are found to be conspecific and further in
another genus  Callophrys grynea grynea and C. grynea siva looks really
strange and unstable to those who have been used to the "prevailing usage"
of Mitoura and two species.   At the most all that can be done is keep
grynea from going back to its original spelling of gryneus.  The current
rules do no allow for a discovered "dead" name to usurp a specific taxon.

Ron Gatrelle

More information about the Taxacom mailing list