Status of the Biocode

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Wed Feb 5 17:49:20 CST 2003

Brian Tindall wrote:
> If you register a name you can only register the "name". In essence this
> means that you will have a central register where you can look up all the
> names which the code currently recognises.

Perfect! (In my view).  Zoology & Botany have elaborate mechanisms in place
to determine whether historical names are "available" (Zoo.)/"validly
published" (Bot.)/"established" (BioCode).  Note that this is different from
whether the name is currently regarded as the correct name to ascribe to
someone's concept of a "valid" taxon.  It's simply an indication of whether
the name *can* be used to refer to a taxon under the rules of the respective

> I have to disagree with Richard on the topic of Species 2000 (and perhaps
> other lists). My contact with this group indicates that the lists should
> contain only one name per species (i.e. synonyms are not
> anticipated in the
> system).

No, I know...but the point is, these efforts have already compiled "lists"
of names with their associated objective data (original description
citations, authorship, etc.).  Granted, they are a SUBSET of existing names
(i.e., they focus on just those particular names that happen to be currently
regarded by someone or another as "valid" or "in current use"; and tend not
to dwell on names widely regarded as "junior synonyms").  Some of the
efforts (e.g. Catalog of Fishes) do not limit themselves only to "valid" or
"in current use" names -- and indeed extend to ALL names that are
"Code-compliant" (="available"/"validly published"); and even include names
that are objective synonyms as well. But the point is, these efforts
represent a start.  How willing these various list-holders are to transfer
the fruits of their extraordinarily expensive and laborious efforts into the
public domain is another issue, for which the list-holders themselves are
justifiably in the position to decide.

> I think what the end user community is asking taxonomy for at
> present is to tell them which of the 5 synonyms which have appeared in the
> last 250 years is the "proper" one to use.

Yes -- that's been the focus...and for good practical reason (e.g., limited
biodollars, priority needs, etc.).  When I bring up the point for including
"non-valid" names (=names not used to represent a distinct taxonomic concept
in recent years), people often respond, "Who, besides the nerdy taxonomists,
care about all those synonyms?"  The fact is, EVERYONE who uses the Linnaean
system of nomenclature SHOULD care!!! And here's why:

As has been said on recent posts to this list, the strength of the Linnaean
system of nomenclature is its 250-year legacy of data.  It has served as the
contextual backbone upon which all this biological data is referenced.  If
we put blinders on and focus only on those names that happen to be regarded
as representing valid taxa today, then we miss out on all that legacy data
that was referenced in the context of names that now happen to be regarded
as non-valid.  If we are to claim access to this 250-year history of
biological data, we need a way to reference it in the context of today's
nomenclature.  So what we need, FIRST, is an INDEX of ALL names; upon which
we can build a second-tier index (=thesaurus) of how those names have been
used by different people over time, and thereby "reclaim" all the historical
legacy data that exist in the context of names that don't happen to be
regarded as valid by the experts du joir.

Thanks also to Chris Thompson for your thoughtful reply on this topic!  In
particular, thank you for bringing up what I had hoped would get brought up
in response to my post:

> As for existing names, the zoological code does now provide a mechanism
> for registration (indexing). That is, the List of Available Names in
> Zoology (Article 79). So if the fish community, for example, wants they
> can propose that Bill's list be adopted by the ICZN, etc. Then the only
> existing names that you would have to worry about are those on that
> list.  I do not believe any group has yet to even thought about using
> this new provision.

This is a PERFECT set up -- whether you intended to be so, or not! :-)
There is, in fact, at least one group that has thought about using this new
provision for this purpose -- and indeed, it is the very group you mention.
I refer you to NSF DBI-0208690:

I've also heard that the beetle taxonomers are pursuing a similar invocation
of Article 79.

Part of the reason for my previous post on this was to "hose down" the
"battlefield" with water prior to striking the match.  To avoid unnecessary
fires, I wanted to clarify the distinction between an authoritarian "species
concept registration" system, and a coordinated[*] species name "Indexing"
effort, before making noise (once again) about perhaps moving forward on the

Doug Yanega brought it up a few days ago in his cross-posting from the ICZN
list... but not many people took the bait.  I wanted to keep it going with a
sort of round-about suggestion.  A big problem that I see with making
"Indexing" (sensu Thompson) a *requirement* of the Code (sensu Yanega), is
that you cannot require something when an infrastructure to support it has
not already been established.

Thus, as Chris mentioned, the draft ICZN code opted to rely on the existing
infrastructure already in place at BIOSIS (i.e., Zoological Record).  For
whatever they political, practical, or irrational....the idea
was shot down.  Personally, I still believe that BIOSIS (Zoo. Record) would
be a highly logical infrastructure to support such a names "Indexing"
effort -- and maybe we can re-kindle the idea.  But another alternative,
which is not mutually exclusive, is to consider the "Article 79" approach
(within Zoology, at least) for building such an Index within the context of
the existing Code.  Perhaps, if more taxonomists followed the lead of Bill
Eschmeyer (see NSF link above) and established such lists for other groups,
there might be a slight shift in the foundation of taxonomy as it is
practiced, such that more and more people would start to look towards the
ICZN index as the genesis of a more broadly utilized "names"
registr...errr...indexing mechanism.  With adequate financial support (the
universal caveat), perhaps ICZN itself could move towards a structured
electronic version of the Official Index of Available Names, and we can all
rally around *IT* as the taxonomic flag-pole for an electronic
infrastructure of names. But the point is, an infrastructure can be
developed and tested in "real-time" without impeding taxonomic process
until...before anyone knows becomes a defacto part of taxonomic

It won't be easy, and it won't happen over night -- but maybe, just maybe --
it represents a viable (and politically palatable) pathway towards something
that all of us (most of us) seem to want to head towards.


[*]I've learned to never, never use the word "centralized" in certain
company....sort of like "Registration"....

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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