[Taxacom] Authorities for trinomials

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Fri Aug 25 15:27:22 CDT 2006

Dick Jensen wrote:
> I agree that the code has no rules with respect to the use of 
> invalid names with one exception - the Code is what allows us 
> to determine if a name is valid or not.  You're right - once 
> a name is determined to be invalid, the Code essentially ignores it.

The problem is, though the Codes can ignore them; biologists can't. Those of
us who spend a lot of time trying to index biodiversity information through
cross-linking of names often find ourselves being creative about what
consititutes a "scientific name", and what does not.  One approach is to
lump all names (vernacular, code-compliant, etc.) in one data structure.
But the weakness of this approach is that scientific names have much more
structure to their usage (hierarchy, etc.) than most vernacular names.  So
most of us (including TCS) distinguishes the broad category of "scientific
names" from "vernacular names".

But the tricky bit -- and of relevance to this discussion thread -- is how
to handle the "quasi-scientific" names.  One set of such names are the
invalid (ICBN) / unavailable (ICZN) names (nomina nuda, junior primary
homonyms, etc.) -- which, from the perspective of the codes, are
functionally equivalent to vernacular names.  But from the information
magaement perspective, they fit more naturally into data structures designed
to accommodate scientific names.  For example, invalid/unavailable names
below the rank of genus usually involve a valid/available genus name. Most
nomenclators (e.g., Catalog of fishes) include invalid/unavailable names
(carefully indicated as such) along side valid/available names in their
listings -- but vernacular names, if included at all, are often relegated to
a separate field or data structure.

Another set of quasi-scientific names include morphospecies designatiors and
such (e.g., "Aus sp.23") -- which combine code-compliant name-parts with
non-code-compliant name-parts.

But the broader point comes back to the original question about standard
practice of authorship:  that is, how to reliably communicate information
among biologists. Although the Codes include all sorts of rules for
determining authorship of names, the authors are not strictly part of the
names themselves.  The only reason biologists have included authorships of
names in their publications (as far as I can tell) is to help reduce
ambiguity when confronted with homonyms, and/or as a clue to where to look
up the original description.  More and more, electronic data sources are
replacing printed publications as the medium of communication among
biologists.  As such, taxon names will increasingly be tagged with GUID/LSID
identifiers, which will (ideally) reduce or eliminate ambiguity altogether.
Thus, it seems that issues of electronic data management will begin to
replace issues of conventional practice of formatting names and their
authors -- which is why I think this question/problem cannot be decoupled
from the electronic data management realm.


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org

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