[Taxacom] FW: Do rogue taxonomists need rogue publishers?

Wolfgang Wuster w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk
Sun Jan 31 11:04:51 CST 2010

Frank.Krell at dmns.org wrote:
> Wolfgang Wuster: "The only reason vandals are common in taxonomy [...]"
> Common? The names I heard in these discussions are Hoser, Wells, Wellington, Makhan. Sometimes a Turkish name comes up, just becasue this colleague replaces homomyms without much insight.
> Why is is always the same four names that come up if  'vandals' are so common?
> Wolfgang Wuster "The question is, wouldn’t we be better off learning from
> history, rather than being its prisoner?"
> I personally would prefer not being prisoner of a handfull of people who are declared 'vandals' by some others. I would prefer to maintain the freedom of speach in taxonomy.
Part of the problem is that most of us in taxonomy, myself included, 
would rather dealing with taxa than vandals, so not that many people 
speak up... I certainly get plenty of supportive emails from within the 
herpetological community.... Moreover, I have no idea how common 
vandalism is in other branches of zoology.

In any case, irrespective of their numbers, the impact of vandals is 
disproportionate. In the first 10 years of this millenium (if we ignore 
the purists and count 2000 as a part of the 21st century), out of 
approximately 400 snake genus and species-level names created for 
snakes, 14% (48/345) of species-group names and 43% (25/58) of 
genus-group names were coined in what would best be described as works 
of vandalism, in self-published "journals" or in the herpetoculturist 
hobbyist literature, often in journals over which the author had 
editorial control at the time. OK, that does not sound like the end of 
the world. However, I still think that the fact that, overall, more than 
18% of described taxa are pure vandalism does not paint a flattering 
picture of the world of herpetological taxonomy. This becomes all the 
more critical since nearly all the "vandal" descriptions affect high 
profile taxa (venomous snakes, large constrictors), in both of which 
categories the majority of names are now the results of vandalism.

At the same time, we can also look at the effect that a "white-listing" 
approach would have. Out of all the names not published in acts of 
vandalism, a grand total of 1 genus, 2 species and 1 subspecies were 
published in outlets that I would consider questionable if the issue of 
white-listing came up. In other words, sane white-listing that retains a 
wide number of standard scientific journals that have historically 
published new taxon descriptions would affect ~1% of bona-fide names, 
while impeding publication of the 18% of descriptions that are vandalism 
and would not survive even the most elementary review process. Moreover, 
if such a rule is in place, then those responsible for the non-vandal 
description could easily have placed them in more appropriate outlets. 
So, in a nutshell, handled sensibly, white-listing would have a 
negligible effect on bona-fide taxonomists  while appreciably impeding 

I appreciate that the situation may be different in other taxonomic 
groups, so perhaps similar analyses done for other taxa could also 
inform this discussion. I also appreciate that the ICZN has a difficult 
balancing act to accomplish, and that no solution will be either simple 
or universally palatable. However, this is a problem that I feel 
deserves more attention than it is getting, and that the problem will 
most likely get worse  in view of the increasing ease of publication.


Wolfgang Wüster

Dr. Wolfgang Wüster - Lecturer
School of Biological Sciences
Bangor University
Environment Centre Wales
Bangor LL57 2UW
Wales, UK

Tel: +44 1248 382301
Fax: +44 1248 371644
E-mail: w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk

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