[Taxacom] Dealing with database errors

David Campbell pleuronaia at gmail.com
Mon Aug 27 09:50:49 CDT 2012

Thanks for the suggestions.  I located contact info for a couple of
the databases and sent emails, but figuring out if those were the
right places is not easy, and I'm glad to hear that corrections should
soon be easily distributed.

Although it's conceivable that an overlooked genus "Ens" exists,
neither my literature survey nor numerous taxonomic compilations have
any mention of it.  I only find it in several online compilations, and
it's easy to see how a computer could err in dealing with

> I wonder if there is not a misconception here.  What do you mean by verifiability?

There are two major categories of verifying here.  Nomenclatural
issues are, in principle, objectively verifiable, though in practice
some ambiguities exist.  The application of available names to real
organisms and populations will always have some subjectivity, but the
reasons and sources behind the decisions can be documented in either

In my experience, many databases focusing on a particular taxon and/or
region are quite well documented, but the global ones often have less.

Of course, one always has to check up on the sources then to verify
details.  For example, there's an excellent recent species-level
review of a particular group. However, for the fossils, much of the
classification came directly from the previous review, slightly over a
century before.  Not only were almost all of the species back then
lumped into two genera (although the late 1800's work did recognize
current genera as sections of genera, the grouping into sections from
the older work is not noted in the new paper), but also the listed
epoch of many major deposits in eastern North America is now known to
be incorrect.  Merely checking the publication date does not tell you
the actual age of some of the data.  The paper is quite explicit about
its own limitations, but uncritical use of a database could easily get
one in trouble.

Dr. David Campbell
Visiting Professor
Department of Natural Sciences
Gardner-Webb University
Boiling Springs NC 28017

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