[Taxacom] Citing taxonomical works (was: decline and fall of taxonomy)

Frederick W Schueler bckcdb at istar.ca
Thu Jun 18 09:34:40 CDT 2009


Alan S. Weakley wrote:
> Citing the source of the taxonomy followed is truly critical in our science.
> It is much more important than citing the actual author of the name.
> 
> If I see "Andropogon virginicus Linnaeus" in a species list, I don't know if
> the lister is using that name in a very narrow, narrow, broad, or very broad
> circumscription.  The only way to have that name be unambiguously meaningful
> is to peg its circumscription or concept to that of a particular monograph,
> taxonomic treatment, or flora.  Andropogon virginicus Linnaeus in the sense
> of Campbell (1981) -- ahhhh, now I know what that means, a rather narrow
> circumscription excluding entities sometimes included in A. virginicus:
> "glomeratus", "hirsutior", "glaucopsis"...

* it's nice to see this said in public - it has seemed, to me, the 
appropriate thing to do ever since I first learned why authors names 
were appended to names, long before the invention of citation impact 
factors (back when, I suppose, tenure committees were obliged to 
actually read the papers of candidates for tenure).

It seems to me, again, that it's a simple case of cut-to-the-chase: the 
citation of the current publication whose species concept is meant 
refers to both the ultimate authors of the names used to express this 
species concept, and an account of the nomenclatoral antics required to 
make the name appropriate.

Citing the author was useful when the taxonomic literature was much 
thinner than it is now, but with 250 years of accumulated literature, 
it's hard to see how it's still useful to maintain this one exception 
from the usual practices of scientific citation of authorities.

The Codes ensure that every name is unique. Given that a name is unique 
without the authors' names, just what is the advantage of citing the 
ultimate author of a name, rather than current revisor whose concept of 
the taxon is meant? (and if there's a chance of confusion among 
homonyms, then there's all the more need to cite a publication that 
clarifies the situation)

> Without a citation of the taxonomy followed, "A. virginicus Linnaeus" may
> mean 1/9th, or 3/9ths, or 9/9s of the "pie" of the named entities in this
> group.  The safest thing then is to assume the broadest possible
> interpretation.  Or, one is left to trying to deduce the concept followed
> from internal or external evidence.  "Hmm, he was working in North Carolina
> in 1980, so probably he was using the concepts of Radford, Ahles, & Bell
> (1968), the usual taxonomic standard at that time and place, except that he
> also listed A. capillipes in his species list, which Radford, Ahles, & Bell
> (168) lumped into A. virginicus, so maybe he's following the concepts of
> Godfrey & Wooten (1979), the manual of Southeastern US wetland plants, which
> DID recognize A. capillipes, or maybe he was just using his own eclectic
> concepts...

* another point is that any use of a name may be interpreted as having 
taxonomic or nomenclatoral significance (as most strikingly exemplified 
in listings of misspellings in synonymies), and it's only be citing 
someone else's species concept that one can shed the formal 
responsibility for having originated one's own.

I wonder to what extent the reported "decline and fall of [respect for] 
taxonomy" is due to the archaic appearance of authors' names in 
peri-taxonomic publications?

fred.
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             Bishops Mills Natural History Centre
           Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad
        RR#2 Bishops Mills, Ontario, Canada K0G 1T0
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