Vernacular concepts

Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at FREELER.NL
Mon Feb 28 22:26:51 CST 2005


From: David Remsen <dremsen at MBL.EDU>
> What makes one vernacular name more reliable than another?  Is it in
the quality of associated data?  Is it the degree of ambiguity
presented by the relationship of the string with other names?

> Two weeks ago an MBL researcher wrote to me.  He isn't a taxonomist, he
is a researcher on cytoskeleton structure.  He took exception to the
use (within ITIS) of "green sea urchin" as a name for  Lytechinus
variegatus when "everyone knows" that this is the "Bermuda urchin" and
isn't green while the "real" green sea urchin is Strongylocentrotus
droebachiensis.   All I could tell him is that is how it is.  If enough
people refer to Lytechinus as the "green sea urchin" than green or not
it joins droebachiensis as a vernacular concept.

>   Of course all the collectors refer to droebachiensis  as "Strongy" but
fortunately none of them actually write anything down.  New England
fishermen refer to this species with such a colorful endearment that I
cannot repeat it here but they all know what it refers to and depending
on your notion of useful information, it could be the nomenclatural
gateway to all sorts of interesting things.

> The point is that questions of reliability, quality, and usage, like
scientific names, are, in my opinion,  higher-order issues than simply
accounting for their existence and this requires a broad vernacular
concept definition.

***
You do not need me to define reliability and quality, nor am I the most
suited to discuss it. Describing the real work to be done as "higher-order
issues" says little.

It all comes down to the information you record in the database.
Merely piling up names that "are out there" without recording exact details
of who, where, when and for what will be worse than useless, it will create
endless confusion. There are already too many databases like that. I already
spend too much of my time explaining to people why what they have read in
such a database is wrong.

Best, Paul




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