[Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Sat Feb 18 12:00:05 CST 2012

Okay, Chuck, I had missed the early part of this thread. Yes,
taxonomists have often generated enmities and vendettas, I think because
we are so isolated (1) it drives us nuts, sometimes, or (2) we have time
to think and realize we've been conned.  And yes these fights over names
are subjective and boring. I respond quickly to key words like
"subjective" that may be part of a world view that deprecates alpha
taxonomy and scientific theory as a whole as mere narratives or just-so
stories. Apparently I misunderstood your angle on this.


On the other hand, since I have the keyboard clattering:   

Science is not just about facts and theory where facts are mostly
settled, and theory is subjective opinion. Facts are rarely immutable,
even if defined as "well-documented observations" and statements about
them can be biased.  Theories can be quite similar to facts at times,
and crackpot nonsense at other times. Theories are generated through
abduction (pace Fitzhugh) and are opinions only to the extent that the
thought process, logic, induction or deduction involved with dealing
with facts is, in the opinion of the author, the best result of a number
of ways of approaching an explanation for the facts. The analytic
process is not subjective and is central to scientific theory and to, we
hope, to decisions on what names should we use for jointly apprehended
groups in nature. 




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


From: Chuck Miller 
Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2012 6:15 PM
To: Stephen Thorpe; Richard Zander; Roderic Page; taxacom
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] validation of taxon names


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


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>
To: Chuck Miller <Chuck.Miller at mobot.org>; Roderic Page
<r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>; taxacom <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] 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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