[Taxacom] Call for proxy votes for the forthcoming International Botanical Congress

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Wed Jul 6 19:03:56 CDT 2011

there are interesting parallels here to the Drosophila/Sophophora debate. I 
don't know about the Botanical Code at all, but for the ICZN:

* only the ICZN has the power to change a type

* there is in general no such thing as "the correct name" for a taxon, there is 
only the correct name *given a taxonomic opinion*. Usually, there is little or 
no dispute, so an undisputed name *appears* like "the correct name"

* in cases of taxonomic dispute, nobody (individual or group) has any mandate 
whatsoever to determine which option is "correct", not even the ICZN. If a group 
decides collectively to adopt one option, then that is their prerogative, but in 
no sense is it "the correct option". Another group who chooses the other option 
is no less correct (at worst, it may be a minority choice)

* we need to find coping mechanisms for disputed names (based on taxonomy) that 
do *not* involve pretending that "the correct option" has been chosen by some 
group ...


From: "Thiele, Kevin" <Kevin.Thiele at dec.wa.gov.au>
To: Paul van Rijckevorsel <dipteryx at freeler.nl>; "taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu" 
<taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Thu, 7 July, 2011 11:21:16 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Call for proxy votes for the forthcoming International 
Botanical Congress

Thanks Paul,

I believe this is a proper venue for the debate, because correct names are the 
currency of all subscribers to Taxacom, and the correct handling of names is an 
important issue.

In response to the main points of your position below.

1. You believe that a 60% majority is needed to change the Code, so a 60% 
majority should have been needed to change the type of Acacia.

I fully agree, and I believe everyone else agrees, that it's entirely 
appropriate that a 60% majority vote is needed to change the rules in the Code. 
So doesn't that make it odd that *three* 60% majority votes are needed to 
conserve or reject a type (a relatively trivial matter compared with changing 
the rules themselves) - two at each of the Committees established to deal with 
these matters and one at the Nomenclature Session.  

2. You suggest that because a 60% supermajority was not achieved either way at 
Vienna, *nothing happened* and so the Acacia issue was not decided one way or 
the other.

It's true that the Committees have a standing procedure that a 60% supermajority 
is required to decide a matter one way or the other and if this is not met then 
they keep deliberating. It's one of the strengths of the Committee process - 
they can and do spend a lot of time on these matters so as to come to a 
carefully reasoned decision. Clearly, the Nomenclature Section cannot work in 
the same way - are you suggesting that if a result was not clear in Vienna then 
it should wait another 6 years for Melbourne, and if it's not clear there then 
it should wait another 6 years for...that way lies confusion.

3. You quote the Code Arts. 14.12 and 14.14 in support of this view.

But the Code (Art. 14.14 and Rec. 14A.1) has a very clear intent. While a 
proposal to conserve is being considered by the Committees, authors are required 
to continue using existing names; once the Committee has made a decision, 
authors are required to use the new name *as decided* (with the clear 
expectation that the decision will be ratified at the next Congress). If the 
intent of the Code was as you suggest, then 14.14 would require authors to 
continue using existing names (and hold off using the new name) until the 
Congress vote. The intent of the Code is very clear - the Committees were 
established to deal with these matters in depth, objectively and with due 
deliberation, and their decision is given great weight. To make it very easy for 
a Nomenclature Section meeting to overturn a General Committee's decision, as 
you suggest, would again engender uncertainty and confusion between Congresses.

It seems to me that those who are upset by the Vienna decision feel so incensed 
by the matter that they are seeking to change the Code and its processes in ways 
that have very negative consequences for nomenclature as a whole, in order to 
right the perceived wrong. It's important for everyone to step back from the 
emotions surrounding Acacia and to look at this objectively and with common 
sense. The Acacia matter itself is of minor importance compared with the 
consequences of the actions of those trying to keep it in Africa. 

Regards - Kevin

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Paul van Rijckevorsel
Sent: Wednesday, 6 July 2011 7:35 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Call for proxy votes for theforthcoming International 
Botanical Congress

I am not at all sure this is a proper venue for this debate, but the posting
by Kevin Thiele does deserve a response. Obviously, this is an important
issue, although not exactly for the reasons represented by Kevin Thiele.

The backbone of botanical nomenclatural decision-making is the
Nomenclature Section at the International Botanical Congress. This is
a law-giving body, a parliament. Given the importance of scientific
names of plants (including algae, fungi, etc) the main rule at the
Nomenclature Section is that a majority is needed for a change in the
botanical lawbook, the ICBN, and for decades now this has not been
just a 50+% majority but a 60% majority (except in those cases where
it is agreed, on the spot, by a 60% majority, that a 50+% majority
will serve). This is to prevent rash changes: "When in doubt, don't".

It is not entirely clear what exactly happened as to procedure at Vienna
except that there was plenty of confusion, and that after several rounds
of (conflicting) explanation the participants were happy to know which
way to vote so as to express their preference. Certainly there was no
vote on procedure, and no deviant procedure was explicitly accepted.

The vote came out 55% against the proposal (in my mathematics
54.9% should be rounded up to 55%, and not down to 54%) and this
should have been the end of it. A line of reasoning has been given out
that 55% was not enough to reject the Report of the General Committee,
but this does not hold water, even on the face of it:
* Art 14.12 and 14.14 are very clear that it is the proposal-to-conserve
that is acted on ("Any proposal of an additional name ...", "When a
proposal ...", "... subject to the decision of a later International
Botanical Congress."). Historical precedent is even more clear.
* It may be that the Report had not been rejected, but that does not
mean it has been accepted. In fact, all proposals handled by Committees
(under current guidelines) remain in limbo until they are either rejected
(by a 60% majority) or are accepted (by a 60% majority), after which
they are moved up on their way. So, at best, the Report is still on the
table, waiting for a future International Botanical Congress to either
reject or accept it.

The matter of Acacia at Melbourne is a very important one, but voting
will be quite complicated. Participants may vote defensively:
* in favour of "Acacia goes to Africa", "no" to retypification.
* in favour of "Acacia goes to Australia", "yes" to retypification
* in favour of established procedure (that is, a 60% majority is necessary
for a change) (note that this is the exact opposite of what Kevin Thiele
portrays). This can be expressed by voting to accept the Vienna Code
minus the Acacia entry (the latter will, then, basically, become a
misprint, or an editorial slip, or some other phantom, to be erased).
* in favour of elected officials ("These are the people in whom we have
placed our trust and we should stand by them, through thick and
through thin!"), which is what Kevin Thiele aims at.

There is alo the option to refer the hot potato to a Special Committee
(to be appointed) which is then supposed to make a decision worthy
of Solomon. Personally, I don't see this working out, as such a
Committee will either be composed of representatives of the differing
opinions, and thus be hugely divided, or will have a composition that
favours one opinion above the others and will be perceived as unfair.

However, participants may also vote offensively, and may make a step
* R.K. Brummitt has proposed to allow up to three genera, which may
each have the name Acacia (simultaneously). Disregarding the wording
of the proposal, which looks unsuitable to me, but which may be
amended (a technical matter), this is a bold, revolutionary proposal.
It is dubious if the world is ready for this, but obviously it will do
wonders for nomenclatural stability (no change of any species names!),
and should be very popular with end-users.
* Nicholas J. Turland has proposed to name the "African" genus
Protoacacia and the "Australian" genus Austroacacia. This proposal
is at least as untraditional as the Brummitt proposal, but it appears
to have no advantages for nomenclatural stability (all species have
to renamed, and no species gets to be named Acacia).
* As the ICBN is a retroactive book of law, there is no theoretical limit
on what may be accepted by the Nomenclature Section, although in
practice voting will be conservative unless there is a really clear
advantage to nomenclatural stability.


P.S. Just for the record, personally, I feel that the recommendation
of the Committee for Spermatophyta is a well-reasoned one
(I wrote in support of it), and the balance of the arguments does
support retypification. However, there are also some good arguments
against, which to me means that there is a less than decisive margin
in favour: I remain in doubt. The huge scale of the issue does not
help: it is too big for me to get a genuine overview.

Some further links
* Acacia, what did happen at Vienna? (2006)

* Did the ayes have it? (2008): pp. 16-20

* A last-minute response to the Thiele & al. paper (2011)

* Brummitt proposal
* A Special Committee
* Turland proposal

An "Australian" website
* An "African" website
* A blog

Behind a paywall:
[ * The case for (2005)
[ * The case against (2005)
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iapt/tax/2005/00000054/00000002/art00032 ]
[* A first reaction to what happened at Vienna (2006)
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iapt/tax/2006/00000055/00000001/art00028 ]


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