[Taxacom] Objective synonyms?

Tony.Rees at csiro.au Tony.Rees at csiro.au
Mon May 31 15:41:42 CDT 2010

Dear Francisco, all,

It appears that we are dealing with three different "kinds" of synonyms here.

(1) Code Glossary entry: objective synonym
Each of two or more synonyms that denote nominal taxa with the same name-bearing type, or (in the cases of family-group and genus-group taxa) that denote nominal taxa with name-bearing types whose own names are themselves objectively synonymous.

(2) Code Glossary entry: subjective synonym
Each of two or more names whose synonymy is only a matter of individual opinion, i.e. it is not objective. See also Article 61.3.1.

...61.3.1. If nominal taxa with different name-bearing types are referred to a single taxonomic taxon, their names are subjective synonyms at the rank of that taxon (but need not be synonyms at a subordinate rank).
Example. The different name-bearing types of Psittacus elegans Gmelin, 1788 and Platycercus flaveolus Gould, 1837 are considered to belong to a single taxonomic species of rosella parrot of which Platycercus elegans (Gmelin, 1788) is the valid name. Although the names are subjective synonyms at the rank of species, they are not synonyms at the subordinate rank of subspecies of Platycercus elegans, for which the valid names are Pl. e. elegans (Gmelin, 1788) and Pl. e. flaveolus Gould, 1837....

Although the Code does not regulate taxonomy, it clearly covers the case where taxonomic opinion is involved under "subjective synonym" as above.

So it seems to me that in principle, Code Glossary could have an additional category e.g.

(3) "genus transfer" or "genus reallocation" or "alternate placement" or some such term, which would cover the issue we are discussing here (for example in the Felis uncia / Panthera uncia case and countless others). Also I disagree that this is of interest only to bioinformaticians; biodiversity informatics (i.e. the treatment of taxon names in computerised systems) has been around for barely a few decades, but these genus transfers have been appearing in synonymies - and are of practical interest to many - for much longer than that.

So perhaps the relevant question should be, why does "subjective synonym" appear in the Code, but "genus transfer" not? Maybe the reason is that the Code is stating that in the case of subjective synonyms, priority is decided by date, however with genus transfers there is no priority involved (since the name depends on the opinion of the taxnomist, and the author making the transfer is not invoked in any case), so there is no reason to invoke any article of the Code. However it does leave a hole in the defined concepts involved which must surely contribute to the fact that this issue has provoked such elaborate discussion to date.

Suggested solutions, anyone?


Tony Rees, Hobart
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Francisco Welter-Schultes [fwelter at gwdg.de]
Sent: Monday, 31 May 2010 8:58 PM
To: mivie at montana.edu; Stephen Thorpe
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Objective synonyms?

I can understand Stephen's message, that nomenclature is not easy and
that most people would certainly not understand it quickly.
Zoological nomenclature is a whole science, which implies that it is
sophisticated and needs a deeper view until one finds a solution
for a problem or an answer to a relatively simple question.

And it often is unnecessarily complicate.
I have repeatedly proposed to find ways to make that science
understood more easily by people who are not skilled, by improving
the ICZN Code and adapt it more to the needs of a broader public. I
am convinced that this is possible, for example by adding more
examples of how to interprete certain articles, by providing more
links within the Code, and by removing parts of the Code that are a
burden in that they provoke misunderstandings without containing
effective content (for example, the term "new combination" in the
Glossary is complete nonsense). The Code is currently like any other
legal document, as if it was created by people who earn much or their
money under the condition that most people won't be able to
understand these legal texts. The law people usually keep attention
that their texts are not easily understood. Zoologists should not
copy this behaviour.

I did not intend to say that Gary's interpretation (Panthera uncia and
Felis uncia being different names) is wrong. I just wanted to say that
the Code does not rule taxonomy and that two interpretations - Gary's
and the one I pointed out - are possible under the Code. I did not
intend to say that Gary's position was wrong in this (first) point.
Only his second conclusion - that both are objective synonyms under
the Code - is certainly not tenable.

Those people who think that S. Thorpe and St. Thorpe are different
names (bioinformaticians for example), will also regard Felis uncia
and Panthera uncia as different names, and as synonyms. That's just
like it is, I see no need to interfere in those sciences and to tell
those people to change their definitions, and not to regard such
names as synonyms. And as I said, you can also - but are not obliged
to - regard the two names as different names under the Code. I only
would be careful to use the term "synonym" in this context.

The initial question here was if the taxobox in Wikipedia should list
Panthera uncia as a synonym of Uncia uncia. And here I would say,
better no. The taxobox was created to list names. It is convenient,
if Wikipedia intends to look professional, to use the science of
zoological nomenclature for the names in the taxobox. It certainly
makes sense to mention the "names" Felis uncia and Panthera uncia in
the taxobox of Uncia uncia. But there is no need to list these under
the header "synonyms". I would just create another header "Other
genus-species combinations", this would be nomenclaturally correct
and the problem would be solved.

Geoff: Thomas has made no mistake there, believe me.

University of Goettingen, Germany

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