A zoologist asks: botanical names practice

Leah Larkin leah_perle at ALUM.SWARTHMORE.EDU
Wed Jun 16 21:35:05 CDT 2004

Derek Sikes brings up a good point, and I think a critical issue for
the future of taxonomy (at least among academics):  If we want to
encourage the practice of taxonomy, we need more established (i.e.
tenured) taxonomists.  However, many departments gauge the "quality"
of one's publications during tenure review by the number of times
they are cited.  But, taxonomic works are generally not cited.  Even
when we write, for example, Quercus alba L., we don't cite the
original publication in our references (some of us seem apoplectic at
the mere prospect of giving the year of this description, and even
then it would not be treated as a citation).  It's a good think
Linnaeus isn't up for tenure.

So, at least theoretically, an outstanding taxonomist could be denied
tenure despite many publications of new species because they were
never cited, even though the new species were referred to many times
in the literature.  Doesn't make describing new species seem like a
valuable use of time from the perspective of an untenured taxonomist,
now does it?

No, Derek, not too radical for me...

-Leah Larkin

>This may have been mentioned before - and clearly some might dismiss it
>as too radical - but if a species description is a publication, and
>represents a hypothesis put forward by the author(s) of that
>publication, that indeed such a species is unique, why is it that we so
>often use these author's hypotheses [species names] without citing the
>paper in which they were first proposed?
>Would anyone use in a paper an ecological hypothesis, or even a
>phylogenetic hypothesis of relationships, without citing the
>author(s)/publication of that hypothesis?
>It's as if we think species are so real and obvious that there is no
>reason to give credit to the person who first described them - anyone
>could have done it! i.e. they are not hypotheses and the work of the
>person who made them available to science is not worth citing.
>I've been tossing this around a bit among colleagues lately and thought
>this seemed an ideal time to throw it out for wider discussion.
>Derek Sikes

Leah Larkin, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
MSC03 2020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001
(505) 277-1349 (office)
(505) 277-0304 (FAX)

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