[Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Sun Feb 19 10:10:17 CST 2012


Dear Paul,

> 
> As to point 4), we have been over this. Synonyms are not necessarily
> names, and in botany at least, 'lexical variants' definitely are not names
> (I know there is an ongoing debate in zoology if they are names, but
> this looks silly to me). So, point 4) is incompatible with point 1),
> unless one were to adopt the 'biodiversity informatician's' definition
> of "a name", in which case this question does not really belong on
> this list.

The point is not whether taxonomists consider them to be names, but how do we find out what these things mean when we encounter them in scientific papers, phylogenies, as entries in databases, as labels on specimens, etc.?

For many taxa there may be more than one name that has been applied to the taxon, the frequency of the use of a particular name may have changed over time, and the name way well have been misspelt on some occasions (and this is ignoring the issue of whether the "meaning" of a name has changed over time).

Anybody trying to collect and analyse data for more than a few taxa is going to hit problems  (for example, hosts-parasite lists may record associations between taxa using names that are not in current use, Genbank has sequence information linked to one name, GBIF may have distributional data linked to a synonym). In some groups (such as frogs) names are so fluid that reconciling different sources of information is a nightmare.

I'm not arguing that taxonomy is "topsy-turvy", I'm expressing frustration that so much taxonomic information is not easily accessible or usable.

Regards

Rod



On 19 Feb 2012, at 15:36, Paul van Rijckevorsel wrote:

> From: "Roderic Page" <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>
> Sent: Sunday, February 19, 2012 2:48 PM
> 
>> 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.
> 
> ***
> I am supposing that this is a special 'biodiversity informatician's'
> complaint?
> 
> As to point 4), we have been over this. Synonyms are not necessarily
> names, and in botany at least, 'lexical variants' definitely are not names
> (I know there is an ongoing debate in zoology if they are names, but
> this looks silly to me). So, point 4) is incompatible with point 1),
> unless one were to adopt the 'biodiversity informatician's' definition
> of "a name", in which case this question does not really belong on
> this list.
> 
> As to the needs of users, where it concerns economically important
> taxa (or even taxa interesting to the general public) there are handbooks,
> standard lists, etc, that handle this, and these have existed for quite
> a while. Only where it concerns biodiversity matters are things less clear.
> It is as if the 'biodiversity informaticians', having promised that their
> shiny new discipline was going to bring splendid results by applying
> special, newly developed, tools (thus cutting corners, over the stodgy
> traditional approach) then went about it in a topsy-turvy fashion and
> are now complaining that taxonomy is all topsy-turvy?
> 
> Paul
> 
> 
> 
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---------------------------------------------------------
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

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Tel: +44 141 330 4778
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