Peter Stevens peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG
Fri Aug 20 08:42:33 CDT 2004

It seems that there are many issues that will need to be treated
separately if this potentially very useful discussion is to go
anywhere.  There is the issue of nomenclature per se, the issue of
who should be "allowed"/emcouraged to describe species, how best to
streamline the description of species, etc. Aside fromn these, there
are metaissues such as making systematics really cumulative and
cooperative.  By cumulative, I mean that knowledges builds on a
secure foundation as fast as possible; do we have to reinspecting a
sometimes necessarily ricketty foundation every time a monograph is
carried out, to the detriment of the edifice that is finally

>  -  Le 20-08-2004, à 0:58 -1000, nous recevions de Richard Pyle :
>>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?
>    Oui, et cela va même plutôt en s'accentuant, malheureusement.

I would like to turn the argument a bit. The rules are so complex in
part because we are dealing with 250+ years of names, a code that is
still evolving, and because the main principle is priority, not
stability (an oversimplification, but it will do).  One could - and
probably should - argue for a version of Names in Current Use to rid
us of the impediment of this two centuries plus of names - not the
imformation in the older literature, that will remain accessible,
just the names that we continue going back to when we monograph and
write floras.  And when a monograph is completed, why not reset the
clock?  I am quite aware that all sorts of objections have been
raised against such proposals, but I see these as representing
largely a failure of energy (including energy spent in building real
disciplinary consensus) and imagination.

If we must continue to produce involved synonymies, then things like
IPNI could provide a valuable tool to help us build "public"
synonymies on which describers of species, writers of floras, etc.,
could rely -  can it not be a matter of reord on the web that I have
seen a type and consider it to be linked with a particular name, and
that I consider the name a synonym of something else.  A person
wishing to describe a new species should be able to rely on such
information, rather than feel obligated to scrounge around to
re-examine the original literature and types (of course, if types and
literature were all digitised...  But you could also argue that
attempts to do this are accepting the status quo of a particular kind
of taxonomic practice that we would be better off avoiding, and are
anyways taking up much time, energy, and money - better to cut the
Gordian Knot as in the paragraph above, perhaps).

>>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.
>    Ce serait, je pense, contribuer encore un peu plus à la
>confiscation de la taxinomie par des non taxinomistes spécialistes de
>disciplines en vogue, telle la biologie moléculaire.

Again, I would like to shift the discussion a bit.  Having a Ph D and
being a good systematist seem rather tenuously linked -  has not a
doctorate become a professional "badge" of rather dubious utility?
As far as I can see, and remembering my own training and what was
available iin the British Isles at the time, a good Master's degree
is what is needed, and the career structure of museums in particular
should fully utilise (and pay properly) a cadre of professional
taxonomists who may or may not have Ph Ds (yes, I know there are few
such individuals who still find a place in taxonomy, but there are
only a few).  This would speed up the recruitment of individuals into
the taxonomic community, and to those who worry that taking a
molecular Ph D  will seduce the student from systematics, well,
obviously the temptation will be avoided!

>>Would there be a net
>>improvement in the current situation by distributing the workload of naming
>>new taxa to a broader population of researchers?
>    C'est une erreur à ne pas commettre : les taxinomistes compétents
>et expérimentés - professionnels ou non -  doivent rester les seuls à
pouvoir publier des noms de taxons.

Well, we have to get a larger population of researchers, and they
have to be more efficient - and if the shape of the introspective
profession of taxonomy changes, so much the better.

>>........  The thought I had was whether an analogous tool might be useful for
>    C'est ça : "la taxinomie sans pleurs" ou la taxinomie "light"!
>Tout le bénéfice, mais sans l'effort. Non, ça ne marche pas. Et pous,
>rappelez-vous : No pain, no gain !

I have often wondered why we taxonomists are such a bunch of
masochists.  OK, I have nothing aginst this at a private level, but
when it reduces our effectiveness in a public sphere, we should worry.

I won't deal with any other points - no space.

>>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

If we could get even seasoned taxonomists describing a plant with the
parts in exactly the same sequence, using the same definitions for a
particular word, etc., that would help everybody, including seasoned
taxonomists.  I am contributing to a flora which has a unique (as far
as I know) sequence in which the parts of a plant are being

There is a lot more that could be said - web-based publishing is part
of the equation, and why not have a system in place so that if a
researcher somewhere in the world is wanting to database information
on Steyermark 29,500, s/he can find out if has already been done (or
perhaps there is, but I don't know about it).

Peter S.

(I have turned off the fan, although I don't think that will do much good).

>>Richard L. Pyle, PhD

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