[Taxacom] globalnames?

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Thu Sep 17 04:01:28 CDT 2009

> I am using the word scientific name in what looks to me as 
> the accepted way (as indicated at 
> ttp://www.globalnames.org/about); that is, taking 
> "biological" in a fairly strict sense, (excluding many 
> formalized ways to indicate organisms), this looks to me to 
> exclude names of viruses (which follow a different logic).

That's a start...but not specific enough.

How many names are indicated below?

Aus bus Linnaues
Aus buus Linnaues
Xus bus (Linnaeus)

To a zoologist, there are three:
Genus: Aus
Genus: Xus
Species: bus

To a botanist, there are two names (and the orthographic variant Aus buus):
Aus bus
Xus bus

>From the perspective of GNI, there are three name-strings:

Aus bus Linnaues
Aus buus Linnaues
Xus bus (Linnaeus)

Other name-strings might include:
A. bus Linnaues
Aus bus L.
Aus bus Linnaues 1758
Xus bus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Xus bus (L.) Sm.

> Obviously, this presents a problem to such projects as GNI in 
> that strings like 'Faba faba' are not validly published, nor 
> are many 'manuscript names' scattered through the literature, 
> although by form they are indistinguishable from actual 
> scientific names.

It's not at all a problem for GNI.  The problem is for taxonomists.  If the
text string 'Faba faba' has been purported to represent the scientific name
of an organsim (rightly or wrongly), then it exists "in the wild", and may
have relevant information associated with it.

> Leaving this aside, authorship is emphatically not part of 
> the scientific name. 

I don't think anybody disputes this.  Don't confuse a "name-string" with a
taxonomists' definition of a "name".  A name-string *DOES* include
authorship (if it's available), because that can be helpful to disambiguate
homonyms, mathc-up homotypic synonyms, etc.  It's useful metadata for the
functions of GNI, so it should be included within the scope of name-strings
harvested by GNI.

> This is of more importance for botanical 
> names than for zoological names as a zoological name has only 
> one kind of author (for a zoological name variations in 
> author representation will stop at something between half a 
> dozen and a dozen?), while the authorship in a botanical name 
> can include up to five kinds of "authors" (authors in the 
> sense of the ICBN). 
> If one goes by the recommended form of at most two authors 
> per kind-of-author that leads to a maximum of ten authors per name.
> Most author-names have two fairly commonly used forms (some 
> have more), which means that without anything out of the 
> ordinary quite a few different representations of authorship 
> will be possible. 
> This is per author attribution, as with new research or a 
> change in the Rules the attributed authorship may well change 
> (with the publication of the 2006 Vienna Code a number of 
> family names instantly became attributed to different 
> authors). All in all, there are many possible ways to 
> represent the authorship, for one particular scientific name, 
> without any change to the scientific name itself, or what it 
> applies to.

Yes, and because we taxonomists have been so bloody inconsistent about how
we represent those text-strings-purported-to-represent-scientific-names, we
need services like GNI if we're ever going to cross-link all that variation.
If we didn't have homonyms, and homotypic synonyms were somehow
self-evident, then the GNI would have much less use for the authorhsips.

> If more of the literature were to be scanned and processed 
> the number of 18 million text strings could be expanded 
> enormously, without this adding one itty bit of information, 
> or adding one single scientific name.

Here is where we depart perspectives in a major way. "without adding one
itty bit of information"?!?!?!  Are you SERIOUS!?!  I can only understand
this statement if I look at it through the very narrow blinders of a
taxonomist (indeed, a nomenclaturalist).  There are MANY MANY MANY other
people out there who ae interested in biodiversity information.  Literature
contains information about biodiversity.  That information is cross-linked
to other information via taxon names.  A human can read scores of published
works, and without much difficulty build the cross-links in his or her mind.
And if we want to continue assimilating information about biodiveristy at
the pace we have been for the past couple of hundred years, then that's all
we need.  

But if we'd like to maybe go beyond ink on paper; maybe harness the power of
interlinked computer databases to access the broad spectrum of biodiveristy
information "out there", then we need a way to call upon electronic
information management technology to assist us. As it is now, we can't even
create a definitive list of known species, let along all names, let alone
all information that has ever been associated with those names.

Sorry for the rant -- but as I already mentioned, nothing frustrates me more
in conversations such as these than when the word "name" serves to obfuscate


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