Nomenclator Zoologicus => A Tool, not the final solution

christian thompson cthompson at SEL.BARC.USDA.GOV
Mon Jan 3 10:14:36 CST 2005

Yes, Martin & Wolfgang are correct in pointing out problems with NEAVE.

However, they are missing the point of what uBio has done. NEAVE is a
tool for specialists. It was built by specialists in the beginning and
then subsequently augmented by the Zoological Record. Now it again to
all in digital format on the Web. It represents 200 years of effort,
starting with Louis Agassiz, continued by Marschall, Scudder and others.
Yes, there are errors in it, that is, unique errors found no where else.
There are also lots of names in it that are not available names under
the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, etc.

BUT as Martin duely notes those are things for specialists to clean up.

What uBio has provide the specialists is now an universally available,
unique digital TOOL for them to use to clean up their names.

ALSO a tool to prevent future homonyms. That is, there should be no
excuse now for publishing a junior homonym in Zoology. All zoologists
and editors should check every new proposed genus-group name in Zoology
against this online Neave as well as the ION [=Index of Names] at the
Zoological Record site to check for match. If there are matches, then
the proposer needs to do some checking.

So, the FIRST step is to congratulate uBio for making a very useful
tool available. Note that what David Remsen requested help on is the
VERIFICATION of the converison from printed to digital. Error may have
been introduced in that process. While David and everyone else is very
much interested in a "clear" set of names, the first step is to make
sure we have good tools. And that the digital Neave is IDENTICAL to the
printed Neave.

SECOND step is to clean up the genus-group names. There are two sets of
problems. First is correcting the errors in Neave. And then assessing
the nomenclatural status of each name in Neave. Then there is the
homonymy problem that a digital Neave makes so obvious and easy to

For example, more 130 genus-group names in use in Diptera TODAY are
junior homonyms. And have been marked as such in the BioSystematic
Database of World Diptera (see but at least in two
recent catalogs (World gall-midges (Cecidomyiidae), Nearctic Tachinidae)
the authors never bothered to check either Neave or the BDWD and simply
ignored the homonymy problems. What is needed here is specialist input.
Specialists need to determine that in fact homonymy exists between two
names, then decide the best taxonomical solution (are there existing
synonyms that can be used or are new replacement names needed?)
Unfortunately, there are the Embrik Strands come out of the woodwork
again. Embrik Strand became famous when Neave first came out as one who
quickly re-named hundreds of supposed junior homonyms. Already there are
non-specialists starting to do the same again.

AND as for tools, we are pleased to announce that the Smithsonian
Libraries in conjunction with National Museum of Natural History are
working now on making a digital version of Sherborn's Index Animalium to
match uBio's excellent Neave.

With these kinds of tools available, along with expanded digital
library initiatives which brings greater accessibility to the
literature, etc., specialists will be easily able to know the domain of
names, where they are located, and can begin to build comprehensive
authoratitive databases of names for Species2000, ITIS, etc.

HOWEVER, as Martin noted, there is a need for the input from
SPECIALISTs, specialists in nomenclature and specialists in taxonomy.
Without the checking of each and every name by both kinds of
specialists, we will not have an useful, stable [in sense of free from
nomenclatural changes, but not taxonomic] system of names.

So, let us begin the New Year with renewed sense of urgency to clean up
our names, etc.

Footnote: Version 7 of the BioSystematic Database of World Diptera with
more than quarter million names will be online shortly.

F. Christian Thompson
Systematic Entomology Lab., USDA
c/o Smithsonian Institution
MRC-0169 NHB
PO Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012
(202) 382-1800 voice
(202) 786-9422 FAX
cthompso at e-mail  web site

>>> Martin Spies <spies at ZI.BIOLOGIE.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE> 01/03/05 07:54AM
Wolfgang Lorenz wrote:
> the online version of NEAVE's Nomenclator Zoologicus (via the uBio
website) is
> certainly among the outstanding achievements of last year,
> However, since it probably will be consulted by many more users than
the book
> version, wouldn't it be helpful to point to the pitfalls and limits
of this
> source?

I agree, and would like to draw attention to a related issue.

Following Dr. Remsen's TAXACOM announcement a month ago, I took a
cursory look at some data in the Nomenclator Zoologicus (NZ) relevant
to the family of dipterous insects I work on, and found that a number
of such data require corrections similar to those mentioned by

Obviously, some such errors are unavoidable initially in a work of
this magnitude and complexity, and I sincerely commend those
responsible for the database for any efforts in quality control. Dr.
Remsen's message was seeking the assistance of TAXACOM members with
such reviewing, which was to take place by assigning a continuous,
alphabetical section of NZ pages to each reviewer.

I realize that the latter method may result from more or less
unavoidable logistical constraints. However, I have serious doubts
whether it can achieve the level of quality assurance that would
render the database a truly authoritative and reliable source of data.
In the group I work on, a significant share of the necessary
corrections could be identified and performed only by a specialist in
the group, with comprehensive knowledge of the relevant literature. I
imagine the same is true for any group in zoology. The likelihood
seems extremely low that any colleague reviewing an alphabetical
section of the data is sufficiently familiar with all the animal
groups he is encountering names from.

Consequently, I have offered Dr. Remsen my services in the form of
reviewing all the NZ data relevant to 'my' dipteran family.
Unfortunately, the practical difficulty there is that the database
does not seem to allow me to extract those and only those data
(approx. 600 genus-group names), as a query by family within Diptera
does not seem possible. This probably is also the reason why I have
not received a reply to my offer.

But returning to the concerns voiced by Wolfgang:
If the above is an accurate description of logistical problems with
the production and operation of the NZ database, and if these problems
cannot be overcome without efforts too large to be expended, then all
publications associated with the database should come with clear
disclaimers expressly cautioning zoologists against uncritical copying
from NZ.

After all, tools such as the NZ are supposed to (ob)serve the
stability of nomenclature, a goal hardly advanced by the worldwide
copying of errors from a seemingly authoritative source, no matter how
inadvertently the latter acquired those errors.


Martin Spies
c/o Zoologische Staatssammlung Muenchen

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