Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at FREELER.NL
Fri Aug 20 16:04:49 CDT 2004

From: Richard Pyle <deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG>
> 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?

* * *
As far as I can see, which admittedly is not all that far, violations of the
Code by non-taxonomists are not a problem, as such. My impression is that
when the devoted amateur publishes a new taxon he goes all out to get it
right, putting together a protologue that is more lengthy than the
professionally trained taxonomist would do, just as an amateur carpenter
will put together something that is overly sturdy, just out of fear it won't
be strong enough.

I'd say the problem rather is trying to track printed matter containing new
* * *

> 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?

* * *
Surely this being done already in programs using para-taxonomists?
* * *

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?

* * *
Yes, that would be detrimental. Especially as the issue is not of "finding"
new taxa, but of trying to wend one's way through the existing chaos. Which
is why para-taxonomists don't publish (by themselves).
* * *

> 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.

* * *
Something like this exists, called DELTA. This generates descriptions, much
the hardest part of a publication.

Of course, an updated Guide to the ICBN would be a good idea. Not sure if
anybody is actually writing one.
* * *

> 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
> Aloha,
> Rich
> 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
> http://www.bishopmuseum.org/bishop/HBS/pylerichard.html

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