Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Fri Aug 20 00:58:53 CDT 2004

First, apologies for the cross-posting.

I wonder if people on these lists could comment on the magnitude of the
"problem" (if it exists) of taxonomic descriptions published by scientists
who are not intimately familiar with the Codes of scientific nomenclature,
and thus clutter the BioNomenSphere with unavailable names, or poorly
documented taxa. Is this sort of thing relatively rare, or does it persist
at a non-trivial level?

Conversely, I was wondering if part of the "taxonomic impediment" couldn't
be alleviated by making the process of naming new taxa easier for biologists
who do not otherwise consider themselves taxonomists.  Would there be a net
improvement in the current situation by distributing the workload of naming
new taxa to a broader population of researchers?  Or, would there be a more
significant loss in the overall taxonomic situation by encouraging
unqualified individuals to mess around in the taxonomic and nomenclatural
world, and do more harm than good?

The reason I ask these questions relate to a thought I had while drifting
off to sleep last night.  I beg for your indulgence:

Anyone in the U.S. who has used the software program "TurboTax" to help them
to file their income taxes with the IRS has probably been impressed with how
the program cuts through the obtuse and often unintelligible U.S. Federal
Tax Code, and presents the user with a series of straight-forward and
easy-to-understand questions, and thereby walk the user through the process
of filing tax returns.  There are features that allow, with a single
mouse-click, access to a clear and readable interpretation of the Tax Code,
with good explanations of how to comply with the Code, etc.

The thought I had was whether an analogous tool might be useful for
Taxonomy.  Rather than walking the user through the process of filing taxes
in accordance with the U.S. Tax Code, the tool would walk the biologist
through the process of describing a new taxon in accordance with the
relevant Code of Nomenclature. It would include straight-forward questions
to the user to ensure that all relevant Articles of the Code are complied
with, with links to elaborated descriptions and interpretations of each
article, example cases, etc. It would essentially walk the user through the
process of describing a new taxon, perhaps with an embedded Latin dictionary
and grammar checker to help with forming a good name, links to lists of
existing taxa to avoid accidental creation of homonyms, information about
how to properly designate and deposit type specimens, a guide to acceptable
published works, hyperlinked glossary, etc. (a long stream of ideas for
features come to mind).

My main question to these lists is whether such a tool would really help
things much, or would it be of limited value (or even potentially make
things worse)?  Seasoned taxonomists probably wouldn't have much use for it
(in the same way that professional corporate tax advisors probably don't use
TurboTax much), but students and "semi-taxonomists" would probably find it
very useful.

Is this a dead-end idea, or something perhaps worth thinking about some


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Natural Sciences Database Coordinator, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org

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