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

Nico Franz nico.franz at upr.edu
Sat Sep 5 06:37:55 CDT 2009

Dear all:

   On p. 6 onwards of this paper we've tried to address briefly the 
issue of identification to a concept, versus authoring of one. It 
remains a tricky, slippery slope.


   Some may also be interested in Dave Thau's work on "automated concept 
matching":    http://wwwcsif.cs.ucdavis.edu/~thau/


Nico Franz

Richard Pyle wrote:
> I already explained the problem in my reply to Francisco, to which you were
> replying.
> I'll re-state it:
> Otherwise, how will the next person know in what sense of the name you
> identified the specimen?  Sensu lato? Sensu stricto?  Are you a lumper? A
> splitter?  Without pointing to some sort of concept circumscription for a
> given name, the next person is left guessing how you perceived that taxon to
> be.  If it's a taxon that has been consistently defined in the era in which
> you identified it, then no problem.  But many species could be interpreted
> as one of several very different concept circumscriptions, depending on who
> you are following.
> Perhaps an example would be helpful:
> The type specimen of Centropyge fisheri is from Hawaii. It is orangish brown
> in life, with a white tail.
> The type specimen of Centropyge flavicauda is from the South China Sea. It
> is blueish brown in life, with a yellowish tail.
> The type specimen of Centropyge caudoxanthorus is from Taiwan. It is dark
> blueish brown in life, with a yellow tail.
> All three species are drab brown with pale yellowish tails in preservative.
> Some authors (splitters) regarded the life-color differences as diagnostic,
> and warranting recognition of all three at the species level.  Other authors
> regarded the life-color differences between C. flavicauda and C.
> caudoxanthorus as minor and inconsistent, and regarded the two species as
> the same (C. caudoxanthorus being a junior synonym of C. flavicauda). Other
> authors regarded the life-color differences between all three species as
> minor and inconsistent, and regarded them all as the same (C. caudoxanthorus
> and C. flavicauda both being junior synonyms of C. fisheri).
> Someone collects a specimen in the Marshall Islands, and identifies it as
> "C. fisheri", without any elaboration.
> Years later, DNA sequencing reveals a non-trivial and consistent difference
> between the populations in Hawaii, the South China Sea, and Taiwan.  The
> community consensus converges on the taxonomic opinion that all three
> populations should be regarded as distinct species.
> Which of the three species lives in the Marshall Islands?  We look at the
> specimen, and its drab brown in color.  We try to get a DNA sequence off it,
> but the specimen was fixed in formalin.
> If the identifier had made it clear that they were following the more
> restrictive circumscription of C. fisheri, then we would feel much more
> confident that the identification is congruent with the modern
> interpretation for that species. But, unfortunately, the person who
> identified it just used their own "mental image of a species", and didn't
> bother to note what that mental image looked like in the context of possible
> synonyms.
> If you think this is a rare circumstance; guess again.  This sort of thing
> happens a lot; and not just in fishes.
> Aloha,
> Rich
> P.S. Certain aspects of the Centropyge example given have been
> fictionalized; to protect the innocent.  
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz] 
>> Sent: Friday, September 04, 2009 11:18 PM
>> To: Richard Pyle
>> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Read... and believe...
>>> Exactly.  And that's the problem
>> Better clarify for Paul's sake who you are saying has the 
>> problem? :) The identifiers or the databases?
>> It is interesting to note that I certainly know of cases 
>> where if I did identify by checking every character against a 
>> description/redescription, I would get the WRONG answer! More 
>> often though, if descriptions/redescriptions/keys were all I 
>> had to go by, I just wouldn't get any confident answer for 
>> many identifications. Direct comparison coupled with enough 
>> experience to know what is or isn't important is the only way 
>> to go ...
>> Stephen
>> ________________________________________
>> From: Richard Pyle [deepreef at bishopmuseum.org]
>> Sent: Saturday, 5 September 2009 9:10 p.m.
>> To: Stephen Thorpe; fwelter at gwdg.de; TAXACOM at MAILMAN.NHM.KU.EDU
>> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Read... and believe...
>>> This is not how identifications work in practice!
>> Exactly.  And that's the problem.
>> Aloha,
>> Rich=
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