[Taxacom] validation of taxon names

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sun Feb 19 16:23:56 CST 2012

Rod page wrote (disingenuously?):

"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.?"

And who is 'we'?

This discussion has reminded me of my Dad saying "The question 'Which came first, the chicken or the egg?' is easily answered if you know which chicken and which egg." The generic 'we' that Rod refers to might best be served by a Gigantic All-Names All-Species Online Taxonomic Resource (GAAOTR) of the kind that Armand Turpel would like to see. In contrast, the day-to-day work of biodiversity science (pests/diseases, flora and fauna surveys, etc etc) is best served by taxonomically limited or geographically limited resources which have been compiled by specialists. (Name the chicken and the egg you want detailed information about.)

Rod's 'we' may be imagining that these specialist compilations can be extended to cover the whole biota of Earth. Dream on. This isn't going to happen because taxonomy doesn't scale. The reliability and usefulness of taxonomic resources depends on how much work has been put into them by specialists, and their numbers and their efforts are limited.

For that reason, the best possible use of specialists by the 'we' is on compilation projects targeted at the taxa and the places that 'we' most need to know about. Some of this kind of prioritisation happens in the real world, but probably not enough.

It is technically possible to build the GAAOTR, but its usefulness will be limited by its quality, which will vary internally. A 'we' going through the GAAOTR for economically, medically, etc-ly important information may realise that the section of interest isn't solid because there are lots of loose names and the latest papers were published in the 1930s. Next step: contact specialists. A smarter 'we' would have gone straight to the specialists and asked "What do we know about X?", bypassing the GAAOTR.

[As I should have done recently. I started to compiled a species list (ca 300 names) from a well-known acroynm which gets its names from another well-known acronym. About 1/5 of the list was seriously wrong: spellings, authors, dates, synonymies. The compilation work - from original sources - will take Y hours, of which maybe 0.05Y was saved by starting with the GAAOTR.]
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
Ph: (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/?articleID=570

More information about the Taxacom mailing list