unpublished names

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Tue Oct 21 14:28:01 CDT 2003

Michael Vincent wrote:

>I agree wholeheartedly with Barry.  Unpublished names should remain just
>that.  We have enough to deal with without having to trace down names that
>have never been published.  It takes enough of my time to trace down those
>that ARE published, especially infraspecific names!

This goes back to something Chris Thompson was saying recently:

>Now while nomina nuda do not have types, they may and hopefully have
>associated taxonomic vouchers. Likewise for mis-identification, etc.
>These voucher specimens are critical for the proper assignment of these
>unavailable names. And this leads to a common problem I find with some
>nomenclatural databases: That is, they only include available names. BUT
>many users do not know what are available names, etc., they only know
>that they have an apparent scientific name and they want to know what is
>the proper / correct / valid name for the organism that is being written
>about, etc.
>So while Bradysia ocellatus (Comstock) is not an available name, it is
>frequently used as one for the common little black gnat found in the
>soil and frequently found in homes where it emerges from the soil of
>potted plants, etc. So, it is useful to know what specimens Comstock had
>when he mis-used the name Cecidomyia ocellatus Osten Sacken.

We have here a situation where there are conflicting needs. At one
extreme, we have people who simply use taxonomic information, and -
in general - aren't going to care about nomina nuda and the like, and
will simply wish to know things like (1) what the present accepted
name is for taxon X (2) what the presently accepted sub-taxa are
contained in higher taxon Y (e.g., checklists, catalogs, authority
files). At the other extreme, we have revisionary taxonomists, for
whom every little detail, no matter how obscure, is potentially
valuable in clarifying the muddle of nomenclature they are compelled
to deal with. Any nomenclatural database designed solely to satisfy
one of these two extremes of the user spectrum is not going to be
entirely satisfactory to users at the other extreme; an ideal
resource should be set up so the user can toggle a switch to go from
"all names" to "all valid names" to "all available names" at will. To
my knowledge, there are no such resources. Even Chris' database of
Diptera interface, which has a box called "Valid name" into which you
can enter search criteria, will retrieve *invalid* names using this
search option (e.g., if your search is for all species in, say, the
genus Microdon, then as long as the name Microdon itself is valid,
the search will proceed, and give all 515 names presently placed in
Microdon, whether each is itself valid or not), so users must still
examine each name retrieved by a search one by one to determine which
ones are the valid names in the list. This may be fine for a
revisionary taxonomist, but it is very confusing for other users who
simply wish to get a list of valid species in the genus. Hopefully,
future nomenclatural databases WILL be designed to accommodate the
needs of users in a more customizable manner, so we won't have to
debate whether or not we should be keeping track of unpublished
names, etc. We *should* keep track of everything possible, but allow
users to decide what they want to see.

The issue of all the effort involved in tracking and recording things
like unpublished names or - as Chris proposed - misidentifications,
then comes down to the individual taxonomist working on a group and
entering data into a nomenclatural database. It is a tremendous
burden to the person doing the work (and that's their choice!), but
it is a small burden for a database, and the potential benefits to
future researchers of not having to re-do all the detective work are
significant. One can't deny there may be times when one wishes to
know, for example, that when Horne discussed "Xylocopa chloroptera
Lepeletier" in 1870, he was in fact looking at misidentified
specimens, and writing about a species in a different subgenus,
Xylocopa auripennis iridipennis Lepeletier (so, the database would
list X. chloroptera sensu Horne, 1870 under iridipennis); but IN
GENERAL no one except a diehard Xylocopa taxonomist would *ever* care
about the sloppy identifications performed by some obscure 1870
scientist, published in some obscure paper in which no nomenclatural
actions were taken. Likewise, if some high-school general biology
textbook comes out in print with the name "Dropsohila melongaster",
this is certainly a citable Lapsus Calami, but it is so close to
inconsequential that one can't justify having it show up in a
nomenclatural database whenever someone asks for a list of taxa in
the genus Drosophila. Again, if someone *wishes* to input such
unavailable names into a nomenclatural database, then it should be
possible for them to do so, but the users should decide upon the
output: it just requires a proper interface, as discussed above. With
user-defined output, the debate goes away, and we can database
anything and everything we like.

Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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