[Taxacom] PhyloCode & ICZN to "duke it out"?

Emily Gillespie gillel5 at wfu.edu
Wed Oct 3 19:44:31 CDT 2007

Hi Ken and others,

While I do understand why many people bristle at the thought of 
radically changing nomenclatural rules, I thought it would be 
appropriate to point out a couple of things that I haven't seen written 
in previous discussions about this topic.

First, becaue ranks are arbitrary from a biological perspective, 
phylocode (or any similar innovation) could not destroy a perceived 
hierarchy of names, in that sense.  In other words, phylocode cannot 
demote or elevate ranks because it doesn't use them, and whether the 
proper name of a group is "A" or "B" doesn't change by dropping the 
rank. So, there's no loss of taxonomic stability there.

Second, if you think about it, phylocode might actually lead to less 
name change _overall _in the long run.  Consider a situation in Linnaean 
taxonomy, where one family is determined to be derived from within 
another.  In this case, one name or the other has to be changed because 
there's no convention to accomodate a rank within the same rank.  In a 
rank-less system, there's nothing wrong with an already-named family 
being nested within another named family because they're simply proper 
names; you just have to be aware of that hypothesis of relationships 
when thinking about evolution within that group, but that is the case 
anyway.  This seems ok to me, because knowing that "A" is derived from 
within "B", _and _that they both were previously recognized as families, 
for example, should in fact tell me something about  _how _we perceived 
these taxa historically, and then I should ask _why _they were thought 
to be more distantly related than we now know them to be.  Seems all 
very informative to me.

It really seems to me that most of the conflict among folks debating 
about the Linnaean system versus Phylocode (or something like it) stems 
from whether a person is list-thinking or tree-thinking.  If you think 
in terms of lists, then any change of names wreaks a certain amount of 
havoc on one's ability to keep up with name changes.  However, if one 
thinks in terms of trees, then name changes sometimes simply follow 
necessarily from re-evaluation of evolutionary relationships.  And of 
course, outside an evolutionary context, group names don't mean much.

I suppose what I could see happening in the end is keeping Linnaean 
proper names (not ranks) wherever possible, because institutional memory 
is important and the names, but recognizing where Linnaean names simply 
cannot be retained because keeping them simply confuses how we interpret 
evolution within a group of organisms. I would be curious to hear your 
thoughts about this.


Ken Kinman wrote:

> Dear All,
>     I was reading yet another thread on the DML (Dinosaur Mailing 
> List) about conflicts between PhyloCode and ICZN.  I guess I should 
> say "potential" conflicts, since PhyloCode is thankfully still not in 
> effect.
>     Anyway, what caught my attention this time was not only the 
> admission that PhyloCode and ICZN (and presumably other Codes) would 
> have to "duke it out" over conflicts, but the suggestion that ICZN 
> (and presumably other Codes) should only deal with genus and species 
> names.  Ha ha!!!  Like we are going to let them take over jurisdiction 
> of family group names, ordinal names, etc.  Especially since they seem 
> deadset on destroying the Linnaean hierarchy altogether.  Anyway, 
> here's a link to the posting (the most pertinent parts are the last 
> two paragraphs):
> http://dml.cmnh.org/2007Oct/msg00033.html
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