Venal bugbears (was: Re: Paraphyly=mistakes? (There's the rub))

Peter Stevens peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG
Tue Jan 15 12:48:11 CST 2002

Of course (I am afraid) this is a problem.  Just look at Takhtajan's
"Diversity and classification of flowering plants."  A couple of years back
I read a paper in which Drosera was split, more recently, Gnetum, to
mention just two examples.  It seems difficult for us to understand that
just because there are a couple of well marked clades withing a family
(say), they do not both have to be called families - and an order then
erected to flag the relationships that were originally "marked" by family
name.  If we want to live up to our reputations, this is the way to do it.

Even if a name appears in an out-of-the way publication, it will be picked
up by indexing services; surthermore, the use of such names may be common
in one part of the world and not in another.  So the problem is not
"significant monograph" or other publications; names almost have lives of
their own.

And I am afraid (again) that there is a version of this problem even if one
subscribes to the priniciples of the Phylocode.

Peter S.

> This, below, has of course been the bugbear ("any object of dread") of
>phylogenetic taxonomists, including myself.  I'm sure I have referred to
>the same hypothetical splitter and lumper in lectures, and as an editor my
>antennae are up for any such "whimsy" in the manuscripts I process.
>Nevertheless -- while acknowledging that we can't know the deepest motives
>of a publishing biologist (and what's so venal about adding to one's CV?)
>-- I wonder just how prevalent this sin is.  Without pointing fingers, do
>Taxacomers have ongoing problems with this practice in their areas of
>specialty?  Do instances of the practice usually occur in significant
>monographs (which would not be issued just to pad the author's CV in any
>case); or are they mainly in papers from sources that one would not treat
>as authoritative anyway?
>In the interest of making the strongest argument for a phylogeny-based
>taxonomy, I'd like to be sure we are not attacking a straw person.
>Barry Roth
>  Richard Pyle <deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG> wrote:
>Thus, they [Linnean names] can slide up and down the
>phylogenetic lineage, superceding or resurrecting other names of like-ranked
>taxa, at the whim of any splitter or lumper looking to add a publication to
>his or her CV -- all without a single branch change in the hypothesized
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