[Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Chuck Miller Chuck.Miller at mobot.org
Thu Feb 16 18:15:15 CST 2012

This thread is precisely what I meant by "sticky wicket."  Even an informatician can observe the stickiness.

I think in the context of the prior thread, subjective referred to the variation of perspective between  taxonomists, such as forming an opinion about whether some other taxonomist is a "taxonomic vandal" or "taxonomic hero" and whether someone like Hoser gets safely ignored (poor guy) or embraced.  These kinds of statements about vandals and ignoring people sure sound subjective, that is, they are based on human opinion and judgment, as opposed to sounding objective, such as a person making a non-opinion-based observation of the occurrence of an immutable fact.

Theoretically, all of the publications about an organism and the immutable statements printed therein are available for all taxonomists to study, yet different taxonomists will study them and apply a different perspective, perhaps influenced by new objective specimens or new phylogenetic analysis, and arrive at different opinions.  But, different opinions nonetheless. That's what I thought was meant by being "invariably subjective" --  invariably based on differing human perspective or opinion.  But, I may have misunderstood.


From: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz]
Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2012 5:25 PM
To: Richard Zander; Chuck Miller; Roderic Page; taxacom
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] validation of taxon names

yes, one should note in this context that there is nowhere in the Code anything which says that there is a single, currently valid name for any taxon. Specifically, there is nothing to say that the most recently published taxonomic opinion corresponds to the "currently valid name". This is a good thing, for otherwise we could get massive destabilisation from "taxonomic vandals" publishing crap recombinations in dodgy journals ... as things are, for example, there is no need to take the likes of Hoser seriously - he may create some new available names, which cannot be ignored, but his taxonomy (what he does with the names) can be safely ignored ...


From: Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org<mailto:Richard.Zander at mobot.org>>
To: Chuck Miller <Chuck.Miller at mobot.org<mailto:Chuck.Miller at mobot.org>>; Roderic Page <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk<mailto:r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>>; taxacom <TAXACOM at MAILMAN.NHM.KU.EDU<mailto:TAXACOM at MAILMAN.NHM.KU.EDU>>
Sent: Friday, 17 February 2012 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] validation of taxon names

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>
[mailto: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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