[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Fri Jan 28 03:01:33 CST 2011

OK, Paul -- you are simply wrong here.  GNI has a "marketing department"?!?
That's the most ridiculous thing I think I've heard in months.

The problem has absolutely *nothing* to do with marketing, or trying to get
money, or trying to mislead anyone, or trying to pump up numbers, or any
other such nonsense.  The problem is that we, as a taxonomic community, do
not have a consistent definition of what we mean by "name".  Most people I
talk to think of a "name" in the same way that GNI represents it:  nothing
more than a text string purported to represent an organism.  By this
definition of "name", "Aus bus" and the spelling variant/misspelling "Aus
buus" are two different "names".  

Botanists and zoologists each have their own definition of what a "name" is.
Most botanists would say the following list represents two names:

Aus bus
Aus buus
Xus bus

Most botanists think of the combination as the "name", and (I think) most
would treat "Aus buus" as an orthographic variant of "Aus bus", but the same

To many (not all) zoologists, the list above contains three names: the
genus-group name "Aus", the genus-group name "Xus", and the species-group
name "bus" (which has a spelling variant of "buus"); to them, combinations
are not "names", they are combinations.

And there are other ways that different people define what a scientific
"name" is, in different contexts.

And, as was ranted here on Taxacom not too long ago, some people think the
"name" includes author and/or year, and some (most) don't.

This heterogeneity in what people mean by "name" has been one of the most
frustrating things I've had to deal with over the past 10-15 years.  I've
wasted enormous amounts of time discussing subtle nomenclatural issues with
people only to discover that we had different meanings of the word "name".
I have long since given up trying to achieve consensus in what people mean
when they say "name" (a futile exercise). 

So your comment about "marketing ploy" -- at least in the case of GNI -- is
pure absurdity.  I was in the room when GNI was conceived, and I know for a
fact that how a GNI "name-string" (as we call it) is defined has absolutely
nothing whatsoever to do with marketing.  In fact, I argued strongly that
there should be no human interface to GNI, because I worried that people
would stumble on it, and not understand what its real purpose is (i.e., an
index of UTF-8-encoded text-strings purported to represent scientific names,
as literally represented in the source, with or without authorship, year,
and other qualification characters; to be used by computer algorithms, not

Evidently my concerns were legitimate.


> ***
> The GNI does not index names, but computer-perceived entities (i.e.
> character strings). They have a marketing department that tries to sell
> computer-perceived entities as "names", an obviously spurious claim that
> does nothing to negate the general image of data aggregators as being
> marketing ploys only.
> Paul
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