Taxonomic Registration

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Wed Jul 31 23:23:54 CDT 2002

Steve Shattuck wrote:

> Here's a crazy thought.  How about setting up a taxonomic registration
> system and require all new names be submitted to it before they become
> available.

Point very well made, Steve!

The one thing missing from all the "discussions" about taxon name
registration, is any legitimate point of opposition (my response to Ron's
points are below).  Sure, lots of people say "It will never work because the
taxonomists will never agree to it -- just look at the history of previous
attempts to try this!" (That's your cue, Jim...)  But I haven't really seen
a credible reason *why* those teeming swarms of maverick, individualist,
decidedly-not-engineer-like taxonomists would oppose it in the context of
today's techno-socio-politico-climate, other than to keep in conformance
with their maverick, individualist, decidedly-not-engineer-like way of doing

I don't doubt that when the idea of registration was first proposed (before
widespread access to the internet, methinks), legitimate reasons/concerns
existed and were raised.  But that's not a reason to kill it now.  I'm sure
that if the U.S. government had decided in the first couple of decades of
the 20th century that it wanted to put a man on the moon, the idea would
have legitimately been shot down.  But a few decades later, the
technological/societal/political landscape had evolved to the point where it
became feasible.  Well, a tremendous amount has changed in information
access technology (and the way people both within and outside of academia
use it), just in the past decade.

So, will someone please tell me what is so bad/oppressive/naive/misguided
about an IC_N-endorsed registration system?

Ron, you said:

> So would this mean that one would just "notify" the registration system
> that they were creating a new name and this "notification" would
> automatically put the name on an official list of available names?  Would
> being listed on the list be the only factor that would then establish
> availability?   If so, then it would not matter where said name was
> published - comic book or scientific journal - it would only be a
> matter of being submitted to the registration system and put on the List.

I see that Steve already beat me to the punch responding to this.  It's a
straw-man, as I imagine you knew it to be when you wrote it.

> Are these names to be submitted to the List post publication?   By author
> or publisher?  If so will the List just accept any name from any source or
> will it first make a list (judgment) on who/what it will accept
> names from? Would this not open the door for systematic censorship?
Political power
> plays?

I imagine it would start out very innocuously, as Steve suggested in his
follow-up.  I'm imagining a server out there to which taxonomists "register"
themselves (this step not to provide censorship of taxonomists, but rather
to help thwart malicious hackers).  The server would do little more than
receive minimal basic data (taxon name, author(s), description publication
details, type specimen catalog number, etc.), and send back an arbitrary
number.  I imagine at the beginning, that the name would still need to be
published in accordance with all the existing IC_N guidelines, except that
one tiny addition to the Codes is that the name would not become available
until after it had been registered.  Of course, to be truly "available" the
name would also have to comply with all the other requisite code-based
requirements for availability; it's just this one tiny additional step would
also be incorporated.

But it won't work because:

1. Not all taxonomists have free/easy/fast access to the internet.
        - Agreed, but even by the current rules, they have to submit a manuscript
to be published somewhere.  Maybe journal publishers could have a check-box
on their manuscript submission form for "Author does not have access to
internet"; in which case (very rare case, I would imagine), the
editor/publisher of the journal would be so kind as to devote the 30 seconds
necessary to drop the basic data on (sorry, Steve -- I like
the ring of "org" better than "com" in this case....) and register the name
on behalf of the internet-challenged author.

2. Not all journals have access to the internet.
        - Which journals that the taxonomic community would accept the publications
of names in, does not have access to the internet? (straw man)

3. It's already complicated enough to describe a new taxon name -- why make
it *more* complicated by adding this extra step?
        - Like I said, 30 seconds to send the basic data to the registration
server.  What is that against the time it takes to examine specimens,
compare them to known taxa, write up a taxonomic description, and endure the
peer review process with associated MS modifications?

4. Big Brother would squash liberal-minded, free-thinking academics into
conformance with the New World Order.
        - Rubbish.  Go ahead, challenge me on this one....I dare you!  :-)

I know there must be more reasons why it "won't work", so let's hear

O.K., so maybe it might work...but if you still have all the existing Code
rules, then why bother?

1. The registration system would be the perfect platform for an email-based
subscription/notification system that would allow taxonomists to "subscribe"
to taxa and be notified whenever a relevant new taxon name is registered
(either immediately, or in periodic digest form).  Thus no matter *how*
obscure the publication is, any taxonomist with a potential interest in any
name would be alerted to its existence, type, reference citation details,

2. The server could alert the registration applicant to possible homonym
issues in real-time.  This wouldn't stop them from registering the name,
necessarily, but might at least call their attention to an identical or
similar name already in the system.

3. The server would provide the universal (arbitrary) numeric "handle"
attached to each name, which could then be shared by biological databases
all over the world; making data exchange all that much more easy and

4. Peer-review feedback over time would identify a list of publishing venues
that are *not* IC_N-compliant for establishing available names.  When a
registrant submitted the basic data for publication of the name, they could
be provided with one of three notices:

"The publication venue you provided has previously been demonstrated to not
be in compliance with IC_N guidelines.  You may wish to reconsider the
publication venue for this name, as it likely will not become available
(click here to see relevant Code Article)";

-- or --

"The publication venue you provided has not previously been demonstrated to
be in compliance with IC_N guidelines.  You may wish to reconsider the
publication venue for this name, as it might not become available if not in
conformance with Code rules for name publication (click here to see relevant
Code Article)" [Note the subtle difference from the previous]

-- or --

"The publication venue you provided has been demonstrated to be in
compliance with IC_N guidelines. Have a nice day."

Shall I go on? I know there must be more reasons why the "potential benefits
greatly exceed the potential costs", so let's hear them.....

> Just because a name "counts" as published
> does not mean it "counts" as available.

True.  But what does that have to do with a registration system?  We're
certainly no *worse* off on this front because of a registration system.

> And just because it "counts" as published and available
> does not mean it "counts" as valid.

Nobody said that the registration system would replace taxonomists.  It
would just make the taxonomists' job a little bit easier.  In time (as more
and more old names become registered, and as more and more names get
proposed in the post-registration era), that would very likely morph into a
"lot" easier.

> The fact is that the great majority of names that "count" as both
> and available do not count at all as valid.

In fishes -- one of the largest sets of names that are almost completely
documented (thanks to Bill Eschmeyer and his team at CAS) -- and one small
step away from being registered -- the ratio is about 2 names for every
"species" now regarded as valid.  In what group is the proportion of
subjectively synonymous names best described as a "great majority"?
Besides, the registration system would help to reduce the creation of some
of those superfluous names, because it would eliminate (virtually) the
creation of redundant names synonymous with older names that were overlooked
because they were published in some obscure but IC_N-compliant venue.

> So what good does it do to have a list of names that "count"
> as available?   Very little.

I disagree.  See above.

> One still has to  _find_ all the obscure
> literature and go through all the original and subsequent papers (and Code
> rules) to arrive at validity. we get into "Phase II" of the registration system.  Once it
starts to grow, and the taxonomist community sees that it is good, then it
can slowly start to expand.  For example, perhaps the next step of
registering requirement would be to include along with the "basic data", a
scanned (e.g. PDF) version of the original description in order for a
registration to be "complete", and thus the name to become (finally)
available.  In fact, I would include this requirement at the outset for
registration of names published prior to 200X (when registration became
mandatory).  If you want to register an old name, you have to provide a
scanned copy of its original description at the time of registration.  What
better way to get this particular body of literature converted to digital

So, going back to your quoted sentence above, the active word being the
first word:  "One".  Yes, ONE still has to find those obscure names, but
then once ONE does so, then MANY reap the benefits (unlike the current
situation, where MANY still have to find all the obscure literature...etc.)
"Once digitized, always available".

> How is a "taxonomic registration system" going to deal with past and
> present synonymy or homonymy?

The registration system doesn't "deal" with anything.  It only generates
arbitrary numbers, associates key data elements with those numbers, and
makes those data elements available electronically via the web.  The
taxonomists are the ones who have to "deal" with issues of taxonomy.  It's
just that their job would be that much easier.

I think Steve summed it up best with:

> It's so simple it's almost scary.


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

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