[Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at freeler.nl
Sun Feb 19 10:58:49 CST 2012


The way I see it there are three possible approaches:
1) go by formal names (considered to be names by taxonomists
and especially nomenclaturists), in which case the discussion
belongs on this list and things are actually fairly manageable;
2) go by anything that in form resembles a taxonomic name, in 
which case the discussion does not really belong on this list and
just about anything goes;
3) use everything that serves as a label, and thus gives access 
to information about taxa, which is what any in-depth study will 
be doing but will be too deep for this list. For some reason the
biodiversity informatician never takes these into consideration...

Paul
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Roderic Page 
  To: taxacom 
  Cc: Paul van Rijckevorsel 
  Sent: Sunday, February 19, 2012 5:10 PM
  Subject: Re: [Taxacom] validation of taxon names


  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
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