Who needs author names? (was Re: abbreviations for author names)

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Fri Mar 10 00:31:35 CST 2006

Hello Wolfgang,

The majority of your post resonnates well with my own perspective.  However,
even if taxonomists come to a mutual agreement of "VALID" names (which I
seriously doubt will happen in my lifetime, if ever -- we'll probably move
away from the Linnaean system of nomenclature before this happens), it is
not correct to think of taxon names as GLOBALLY unique identifiers, because
many of them are not GLOBALLY unique (the genus Phalus comes to mind, but
there many, many are others).  Rather, a complete listing of "valid" names
would at best be "Contextually Unique Identifiers" -- the context being
zological names within the domain of the ICZN (botanical names having
allowable "valid" names that are homonymous with Zoological names).

> As for LSIDs and GUIDs, a related issue which has turned up repeatedly in
> recent postings: what about the role of VALID NAMES as
> human-readable elements
> within LSIDs or GUIDs? In my point of view, codes instead of
> taxonomic names are
> user-unfriendly to such an extent that I would strongly wish to stay with
> human-readable name strings, as far as possible.
> Would be interesting to know what the bioinformatics community think about
> this issue.

Just to be clear, the point of GUIDs & LSIDs (the latter being a particular
type of the former) is **NOT** to replace traditional textual names used for
human communication.  A requirement of LSIDs (and strongly desired
characteristic of GUIDs in general) is that they be considered "semantically
opaque" -- which is fancy compu-geek-speak for "containing no inherent
information".  LSIDs *seem* to contain information, but in fact they do not
(the Authority and Namespace components being convenient ways to achieve
uniqueness, not actual information content). The reason for this "opacity"
of GUIDs is that information content can sometimes be wrong (even if only in
the form of inadvertent typographical errors), and therefore people might be
tempted to change them (or might accidentally duplicate them).  Another
fundamental aspect of GUIDs is that they should NEVER be changed or

The reason we want GUIDs is to allow computers to communicate with other
computers; *not* for communication among humans, or between humans and
computers.  I personally think it would be a mistake if anyone other than
IT-professionals and database managers ever see GUIDs. They should remain
hidden, behind the scenes, in the realm of computers communicating with
other computers.

Whenever one of us "machines made of meat" is involved, the traditional
taxonomic name (with whatever appropriate contextual information is
necessary to minimize ambiguity) should continue to be the mechanism of
taxonomic communication.


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

More information about the Taxacom mailing list