[Taxacom] Read... and believe...

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Fri Sep 4 15:21:03 CDT 2009

Dick Petit wrote:

>Are you telling me that if you wish to identify a specimen and you 
>find a conspecific specimen in a collection that you simply use that 

Given that we have a collection which contains millions of specimens 
of over 100K taxa, and an in-house library that contains original 
descriptions of only a few hundred species in one Order, a lot of 
specimen IDs do take place either through using keys or - when there 
are few alternatives possible - by visual matching. If insects had to 
be compared to their original descriptions to make IDs, then 99% of 
all the world's insect specimens would remain unidentified to this 

>  I can understand how that might be necessary in sorting out a mass 
>of material but some workers do not bother to go back to the 
>beginning when describing related taxa (which may or may not be 
>related - or even the same).
>Keys are unfamiliar to me as they are rarely used in malacology.

This reminds me of something I neglected in my hasty original 
response; when dealing with names, the cases where there is a 
specimen at hand which can be checked are a *minority*. Most of the 
literature on insects - and probably all other organisms - consists 
of information associated with a name *with no associated voucher 

This, I presume, is THE most daunting thing facing those who wish to 
compile and cross-reference all existing scientific knowledge tied to 
organism names. How many publications (non-taxonomic, of course) that 
present data on natural history do you know of where the author(s) 
deposited vouchers? The vast majority of natural history data 
gathered in human history is utterly untrustworthy, in this respect. 
If we want to do it right, we're talking about almost literally 
starting again from scratch.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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