[Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Sun Feb 19 07:48:34 CST 2012

This thread seems to have spiralled off into the murky waters of taxonomic opinion, where no sane individual would want to go ;)

Dragging it back a bit, my list of five services I think would be useful were:

1. Is this a name?
2. Is this the correct way to write it?
3. Is this name currently in use?
4. What other names are related to this name (e.g., synonyms, lexical variants)?
5. Where was this name published? Can I see that publication?

I still think most of this is pretty straightforward to do. Number 3 could perhaps be best phrased as  "what name should I use?." As much as we might dislike the question (there will often be multiple possible names, and some argument about which to use), I suspect many uses don't care about these minor details, they want a name to use for their purposes. As Robert Scoble has argued in the context of buying a mobile phone, people want to make a choice that avoids making them look stupid http://scobleizer.com/2011/12/26/phone7/

In the case of taxonomic names, I'm guessing people would like to use a name that most of their readers are likely to recognise, and that search engines will find. If I'm compiling a list of animals eaten by penguins I don't want the full taxonomic history, nor do I want ambiguity, just give me a name! 

There also seems to be an undercurrent of "this taxonomy stuff is really hard, we can't automate this stuff because taxonomists have special knowledge, etc.". There will always be hard cases that need expertise, but I suspect a lot of the information users need can be computed. For example, Huber and Klump have done some interesting work on using algorithms inspired by Google's PageRank to analyse taxonomic synonomies (see   http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cageo.2008.02.016 , free PDF here http://edoc.gfz-potsdam.de/gfz/get/13007/0/d8b09c133462792c99eb6a163a6c5601/13007.pdf ).

So, I'd like to see less special pleading that taxonomy is hard, that taxonomic knowledge is special, and more focus on what users want (or need), and how we can create the tools they need.



Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

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