[Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Thu Feb 16 17:10:42 CST 2012

It seems to be best that informatics deals best with as objective,
factual information, minimizing the gray area.

Regarding "subjective," however, taxonomists wrestle mightily with
decisions every day, trying to make reasonable and fact-based name
changes of benefit to all users of taxonomy. They use discursive logic
based on examination of dozens or hundreds of specimens in the context
of evolutionary theory, and this is not particularly subjective to me. 

Yes, deciding which name is "correct" ("valid" for botanists) is a
problem for those not familiar with the subject matter. Using the latest
name is a good rule of thumb, although I've argued against the newest
molecular phylogenetic names interminably in the past. 

One might make an analogy with scientific theorization in other fields.
Which theory is right, photon or wave? Is the world round or flat? Is
the red shift a property of an expanding universe or a function of
decreasing energy associated with intervening gravity wells? Is the
value of pi different if you have a large enough circle, like one around
the whole universe? Is the black maple a species or only a variety of
the sugar maple? 

Note that the above are, however some are strange, scientific questions.
Scientific intuition helps solve them. Each question in valid/correct
names needs a FermiLab of scientists to do the molecular, growth,
ethology, allozyme, biogeography, cytology, population, and etc. studies
needed to get a definitive answer.

This is why it is easy to say decisions are subjective when they are
merely poorly funded. If every informatics person spent half his/her
time in biosystematics work, these problems would be less "subjective."


* * * * * * * * * * * *
Richard H. Zander
Missouri Botanical Garden, PO Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA  
Web sites: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/ and
Modern Evolutionary Systematics Web site:

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Chuck Miller
Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2012 1:58 PM
To: Roderic Page; taxacom
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Dear Rod,

I would propose to extend your phrase to "person(s) x in publication y
asserted that two names are synonyms or lexical variants of each other"
The assertion of related names occurs in a publication by that/those
person(s).  Publication y's assertion should just be an objective fact
and immutable.  

But, the sticky wicket comes when point 6 is posed: "Which of all the
related names is the best one to use to refer to the organism right
now"?   The issue of best is invariably subjective.  


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