[Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Thu Feb 16 11:45:47 CST 2012

Not to beat this particular dead horse of a spinoff thread, but...

Jim Croft wrote:

>In one sense, a published synonomy is not subjective. Either it was
>published, or it was not, and this opinion can be precisely
>documented, in most cases beyond dispute. And that is taxonomy.
>On Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 12:50 PM, Curtis Clark <lists at curtisclark.org> wrote:
>>  On 2/15/2012 10:40 AM, Doug Yanega wrote:
>>>  #4 is something that cannot be objectively determined, because
>>>  synonymy is almost invariably subjective.
>>  Because of the meaning of "synonym", literally objective synonyms are
>>  much more common under the ICN.
>>  But even for subjective synonyms, the salient point is "referenced in
>  > reliable sources".

First, the original discussion (and title of the thread) uses the 
word "validation", which - I was assuming - meant that the issue was 
"What kind of resource would tell us whether a name is valid or not?"

Under the ICZN, the term "valid" is defined as "...the correct name 
of a taxon in an author's taxonomic judgment". That is, quite 
explicitly, subjective. The point in the list of 5 criteria that 
deals with that subjective element of validity is point #4.

Second, if one has a master list of all published names, simply 
annotating that name X was, in year N, synonymized with name Y by 
author Z does NOT tell you whether name X is *presently* treated as 
valid. All it would tell you is that author Z did not believe the 
name was valid, and that - in and of itself - is not likely to be the 
definitive answer that people using such a master list for 
taxonomic/nomenclatural research would want. In particular, bear in 
mind that thousands of names that were once treated as synonyms have 
both formally and informally been removed from synonymy by subsequent 
workers - and if one's master database lists all acts of synonymy, 
then how does one list an act of de-synonymization, especially if it 
is by informal means (e.g., some crackpot publishes a paper that 
every genuine taxonomist in the field simply chooses to pretend does 
not exist)?

Third (and final); even some names that have never been synonyms (or 
do not have synonyms) might - over historical time - have been 
applied to multiple different taxa, due to things like mixed type 
series or misidentifications. Taxonomy and nomenclature are riddled 
with quirks and idiosyncrasies that make it hard to give tidy, simple 
explanations for what surrounds a given name (both objectively and 
subjectively). I'm sure the people directly involved in this 
discussion are painfully aware of such quirks, but for those who 
wonder why we don't already have an all-purpose resource already at 
our disposal, those complications - which certainly affect the task 
of building such a resource - might not be immediately obvious.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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