[iczn-list] Re: TurboTaxonomy?

Ron at Ron at
Sat Aug 21 02:25:47 CDT 2004

----- Original Message -----
From: John D. Oswald
To: Zoological Nomenclature Discussion Group
Cc: iczn-list at lyris.bishopmuseum.org
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2004 12:54 PM
Subject: [iczn-list] Re: TurboTaxonomy?

    It is a well-known "difficulty" of the code that it is intricate and
complex. Much of this complexity results from the absolute necessity that
the code must include many "exceptions" to current nomenclatural practice
in order to make it applicable to far-different nomenclatural practices
dating back to the middle of the 18th Century, including "grandfather
clauses" that create exceptions for nomenclatural practices sanctioned
and/or mandated by earlier codes. This complexity is critical to the
maintenance of the temporal stability and global universality of many
widely-used early names that would not meet the nomenclatural standards
(particularly availability) applied to proposals of new names now. Working
systematists need this complexity to help them deal with historical names
and literature. However, because of this, the code necessarily carries a
lot of baggage that may not be directly applicable to creating new
available and valid names for taxa that currently lack formal scientific
A hearty "amen" to all of the above.  One needs to also realize that the ZN
code (since that is the one I use) _IS_ quite clear and streamlined re NEW
names.   The real torment only happens when we start having to go back into
the often obscure work of the 1700s to mid 1800s - but if one is a purest,
that part can actually be "fun" (knowledge enriching).

 The drafting and promulgation of a "guide" document by the
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature that addressed in a
streamlined manner the nomenclatural issues associated with the proposal of
new names, based on the current edition of the code, would be a very useful
item. Such a document could focus on current nomenclatural practice,
without having to delve into historical complexities except where deemed
necessary (perhaps often simply by code article reference). The document
could address the nomenclatural issues related to availability
(publication, binomial nomenclature, description, etc.) and validity
(synonymy, homonomy, etc.) in a more straightforward manner that would be
useful to many biologists. Such a "guide" would not (could not!) replace
the code, but it would recast the elements of the code most immediately
applicable to the proposal of new taxon names in a manner that made it more
clear just what the code requires as proper current nomenclatural practice.
On the money, again.

snip of more good stuff...
However, an argument can be made that "demystifying" or "oversimplifying"
scientific nomenclature through such a document could result
in/promote/encourage the proliferation of new available names (which must
then be permanently tracked) proposed by individuals with inadequate data
or training to appropriately justify the biological/phylogenetic concepts
that the names are meant to represent. Many, I expect, will see danger in
this -- but the issues involved in that argument fall outside of
nomenclature itself and cut quickly to deep social and scientific values
such as access, best practices and proper training, that lack consensus and
simple resolution.

I like the balanced thought and conclusion.  In taxonomic practice, it IS
about integrity and anyone worth their tweezers and magnifier should know
when they are getting over their head and, at that point, automatically seek
the help of those more _qualified_, which can result in co-authorship.   But
my main reason for responding to this post is to address the main thrust of
the thread which is Turbo Taxonomy (software/paper information ebullient to
Turbo Tax software/paper)  While this would be wonderful, esp. when dealing
with new descriptions (not old names), it should not be taken as a
_substitute_ for a taxonomists' responsibility to be familiar with a basic
tool-of-the-trade -- The Code.   Lots of people like to catch and eat fish,
but not cleaning them.  But one can't eat without properly cleaning them.
The Code is the cleaning tool to ensure the nomenclature is on the money in
expressing the taxonomy.   Thus, I find it odd that various taxonomists I
know are so unfamiliar with the Code.  I know one who doesn't even own the
new ICZN - and doesn't much care.   What am I saying?  That a readers digest
Code and a Turbo Taxonomy aid is great - but it can not be a substitute for
the taxonomists' _responsibility_ to become proficient in their disciplines'
Code.  Hey, it's a basic tool.  It's not an option.   Thus, in doing a good
thing (turbo taxonomy = pre cooked and ready to microwave taxo-meals) I
don't want to see the art of Code Expertise (= gourmet taxo-cooking) tossed
aside.   What we are after is an aid to, not a substitute for.

Ron Gatrelle

More information about the Taxacom mailing list