A zoologist asks: botanical names practice

Nico Mario Franz nmf2 at CORNELL.EDU
Fri Jun 18 03:55:44 CDT 2004

Fun discussion so far. Wait until Rich takes on concepts and GUIDs...

As for the original/recent citation issue, I thought this shouldn't
necessarily be an either/or issue.

Citing the original reference has the neat aspect that one is pointing all
the way back to an event of "baptism" or "dubbing", when a word-object
connection was first formed and then made public. However, that event
could have been performed particularly poorly.

A recent reference might be more precise, but is not necessarily connected
to that first link in the causal chain of communication. Ambiguity could
have snuck in along the way.

In the moss work I cited, the authors looked at over 1000 concepts
(species- + genus-level) treated in ca. 5-8 major reference works, pretty
authoritative stuff, ranging (only) from 1927 to 2000. In only 13% of the
cases, the full name (yes, incl. author & year) was a precise and reliable
access point to the underlying notions (of how nature is carved up) each
author team had. From my experience with weevils, I couldn't say the
picture is much different.

When you look at these results, it could turn out that we taxonomists are
particularly priviledged and also unfortunately biased: we "know" how much
classifications can transform over time, yet since this stuff (the
constant changes) is our daily bread, and continuously neatly reorganized
in our minds, we can also deal with it almost as if there weren't a
problem. We're awesome (if involuntary) revisionary historians.

We may sometimes be "fooled" into thinking that the uses of names have
stable referents just because we're so good at adjusting our mental
picture every time something slightly new comes along. If you know your
group, each adjustment may be so quick that in the next month you use a
different name for the same taxon, as if nobody ever named it differently.

If all changes over time were presented to us at once, it would be more
chaotic. This is how non-specialists must sometimes feel. They never enter
the chain.

Ideally, to understand the legacy literature, you need a full picture of
name/meaning changes from the initial baptism to the current use. The
citing of only one of those extreme points is often good enough to do the
desired work, though.


At 20:47 16.06.2004, you wrote:
>Mary Barkworth wrote:
> > I know of no good reason for citing the date of publication.

>* amen. It's always seemed to me that it would be a more useful practice
to cite the authority you're following for the application and extent of
a name, rather than a ritual account of the original authorship ...
(Frederick W. Schueler, Aleta Karstad, Jennifer Helene Schueler)

I strongly disagree. Author name and date of publication in the context of
a species name are not a citation of a source, as in the running text of a
scientific paper. Instead, they are means of indicating as precisely as
possible in a short way which species (hypothesis) is meant. Numerous
authors, especially in former times, published many names in one year,
the same name several times in different years, and it is often ambiguous
just to give genus name and specific epithet, even if you give the author
along with it.

Citing the authority of the determination key you used is just shifting the
duty of providing an unambiguous name to the next level, and this is quite
often not at hand for the reader of your paper.

                                 Best regards

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