Who are the pros?

Ron at Ron at
Sat Aug 21 02:53:35 CDT 2004

I responded to this message thinking it was a taxacom post - but (oops) sent
the reply to where is actually was posted - the ICZN list.  So since this is
the "audience" I intended my remarks for, I re-post it here.

----- Original Message -----
From: Bill Shear
To: Zoological Nomenclature Discussion Group
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2004 11:55 AM
Subject: [iczn-list] Re: TurboTaxonomy?

I think the problem with nontaxonomists proposing species names is not so
much that they are not properly proposed (the minimum criteria are pretty
slack, after all), but that the authors often lack sufficient background in
the taxon to be able to discern genuine new species.  So the result is the
proposal of a new name for a species that already has one.  Of course, the
pros do that too, but at a much lower frequency.

I've heard this (".. often lack"..."at MUCH lower frequency") for at least
25 years and consider it an urban legend.   A bias that _instutitional_
"PhDs" seem all to ready to accept at face value.  What is a "pro" and what
is an "amaeteur" is the first thing to define and thus establish who is on
which side of the line.   My first taxonomic paper was in 1974 when I and
Dr. Richard Arbogast described the butterfly Satyroides appalachia leeuwi.
It was published in the Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society and that
subspecies remains in virtually every publication and check list to this
day - a "good" subspecies. Arbogast is now a semi-retired professional
entomologist with the USDA, I am a high school grad.  He was the junior
author.    Was I the "amateur" and he the "pro"?  His contribution was
secondary and thus a true "junior" author. We were/are both "pros" in my

By the way, in that paper I submitted it under the genus Satyroides, but the
pros who anonymously reviewed it would not let it be published unless we
used the genus Lethe.  No body has had this species in Lethe for many many
years - universal agreement is now that it is properly in Satyroides.  So
was the high school grad the "expert" or the "specialists" (PhDs or non) who
screwed up and put it in the wrong genus?   It was the pros at the time who
" didn't have sufficient background in the taxon to be able to discern..."
the proper generic placement.

Do we mean pro = PhD, or pro = experience, or paid?   I have been hired to
do work for US Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife several times.   I
charge $300 to $500 a day - PhD rates.  Historically, a great many of the
leading taxonomists in Lepidoptera were not PhDs OR did not work as paid
employees of an institution.  One of the top Lepidopterists in the US today
is Dr. James Scott (entomology PhD).  He self publishes everything he does
now, and has never (that I know of ) been employed as an entomologist.
James' self published stuff is some of the most thorough and important
material being put out in our speciality.

Bill said: The most troublesome names are often published in non-reviewed
journals or in self-published ones which nevertheless meet the minimum
criteria for "publication."

Is this the real issue or is it that most who are paid staff at institution
are required to publish only in main line blind reviewed publication.  Most
are required to publish, and within restrictions.  So it is an easy gripe to
continually complain about self publication and open or no review.   I was
fist put onto this assessment of the "system" by Dr. Kurt Johnson and a
couple other PhDs when we started our TILS publication is 1998.   The advice
of these was to not worry about "criticism" then thrown at us because they
advised that many were just jealous they could not (by job impositions)
operate in the same freedom we were structured in.

It is counterproductive to lump folks into pros and slackerds - real
publications (always "yours") and tabloid taxonomy.  It pits people against
each other and stigmatizes those really good "private" publishers with more
open process as second rate while providing and perpetrating the illusion of
status to any possible bad "instructional" publishers.   No, to me there are
only thorough and less than thorough _researchers_.  It is about the
integrity and pride-in-their-work of the person, not their education or pay
or where they publish.  Quality is quality and crap is crap no matter who
does it or where.   I don't think any "group" has an inherent majority or
monopoly in the integrity market.

I don't have the thread post saved, but someone here early on (a PhD) stated
that amateurs tend to over build their case.  I find that very true.   I
have just finished 4 pages of text (single space 8 1/2 X 11 in 12 pt.) on
why I am designating a neotype for an old taxon as a side section in a paper
describing a new species.   Many will likely see it as over done when they
read it. .

Ron Gatrelle
TILS president
Charleston, SC - USA

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