Registration (was: TurboTaxonomy?)

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Tue Aug 24 10:03:56 CDT 2004

> My understanding of what registration was when it was vetoed at
> the IBC was that it took "names in current usage" and made them
> the baseline names.  You would have been completely unable to
> go back and resurrect a name that was not on that list -- and
> you couldn't re-create it either.

This is most definitely NOT what I (and I think the vast majority of digital
taxonomy advocates) mean by "Registration".  Unfortunately, this "R-word"
has been somehow branded (particularly amongst botanists) as some sort of
authoritarian effort to take control of the taxonomic world by dictating
which names are valid/accepted, and which are not.  I can only hope that
this is the "evil" to which Jim referred in his earlier post, because that
would mean that our disagreement is based only on incongruent semantics.

In the U.S., we "Register" to vote in political elections.  The act of
registration does not declare who we would vote for, or even commit us to
actually voting at all on election day. The point of registration is to
basically declare "Here I am, and I meet the minimum requirements for voting
in my state!".

Taxonomic "Registration" -- at least as defined by me and, I'm fairly
certain, the majority of people who promote it these days -- is NOT about
declaring which taxon names should be treated as synonyms, or which names
should be used, or are preferred, or anything of the sort.  As with voter
registration in the U.S., it would simply be a universal mechanism of
declaring, "Here is a taxonomic name, and it meets (or, in some cases, fails
to meet) the minimum requirements for availability according to the relevant
code of nomenclature"  -- so all of the taxonomic world would have immediate
access to knowledge of the existence of the name, and additional important
information such as a bibliographic citation for the original description,
perhaps some sort of pointer to the type specimen(s), and some other core

There would be no "Authority" -- nobody would "own" the registration
database (I imagine it would be free for downloading/mirroring by anyone).
All that's really needed is a simple schema, a GUID provider, a protocol for
data exchange and/or synchronization of mirrored copies, and at least one
(but potentially dozens or hundreds) of front-end portals with search
features, etc.

One of the shining examples of true, successful international cooperation in
human society is the voluntary conformance of the world's biologists to
compliance with the Codes of scientific nomenclature.  We've already
demonstrated over the past quarter millennium that we CAN cooperate.  Now
that technology can make that cooperation SO MUCH easier and more effective,
why is there resistance?  The Codes of nomenclature evolve ponderously --
exactly as they should.  Alterations to the existing, well-established
system require a great deal of careful and insightful forethought to avoid
unnecessary mistakes.  A taxonomic registration system would need to be
developed with similar care and forethought, to ensure that it really does
provide demonstrably more benefit than harm.  But to simply declare that
"Registration is evil" (sorry, Jim) is...well...not very helpful.


P.S. Several people have, over the years, suggested that the solution is to
simply avoid using the word "Registration", and instead use something like
"Indexing" to mean essentially the same thing.  I'm reluctant to alter my
own vocabulary to avoid using the word that best describes what I am
describing, just because that word has been mis-interpreted, mis-used, or
hijacked by others in the past. Damn it, there are "significant" things in
nature that have absolutely nothing to do with a p-value of <0.05! :-)

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

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