[Taxacom] global species lists and taxonomy ( was Re: Draft Checklist ...)

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Wed Aug 28 13:27:25 CDT 2013

I'll jump in here, and re-title the thread, since no one seems to be 
referring to the original topic any more.

On 8/28/13 12:52 AM, Donat Agosti wrote:
> And there is definitely no cure in sight, if we continue to publish dumb, copyrighted taxonomic publications in print or as pdf.
> The creed should be: open access, marked-up publications that can automatically be harvested for taxonomic names (and more), at least new taxa being registered previous to the publications at the various domain specific registries (Zoobank, IPNI; Mycobank/Index Fungorum, etc.). The technology and business model is here (see the Pensoft publications Zookeys, Phytokeys, etc.).
On 8/28/13 1:18 AM, Robert Guralnick wrote:
> Its very
> thorny, however, as it requires not just dealing with names entering the
> system but the names, changes to names, and changes to name
> circumscriptions eg. taxon concepts separate from the name changes.
The domain-specific registries are not designed to track name changes or 
circumscriptions, which are subjective (with few exceptions). The role 
of subjectivity in the taxonomic enterprise is the fundamental stumbling 
block - and always has been - in terms of taxonomists communicating to 
non-taxonomists, and even if we had a complete registry of every name 
ever published, we would have no *objective* (i.e. "definitive") way of 
telling anyone how many *taxa* those names represent, OR what ranks they 
should be assigned to. To accomplish this we would need to create a new 
administrative entity whose task is to (1) arbitrate all cases of 
taxonomic "dispute" such that a single definitive taxonomy is achieved 
[look to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) for a possible model], and 
(2) make that single taxonomy available to non-taxonomists via a dynamic 
"official" interface [look to Wikispecies for a possible model, but with 
links that allow for instant propagation of classification changes to 
all online sources]. I'm fairly certain, however, that not only would 
there be insufficient financial support (to engage the services of 
enough taxonomists for this to work), but that the concept itself - a 
select group of taxonomists coming to a consensus about an *entire* 
classification - is about as realistic as expecting to find a pot of 
gold at the end of a rainbow. Even the APG is still highly controversial 
after 15 years, and that covers just one part of the taxasphere, and 
only a subset of the rankings therein.

Taxonomists are people, and people have ambitions and egos and careers, 
and they are collectively, intrinsically, in *conflict*; fighting for 
jobs, fighting for funding, fighting for *recognition*. Expecting 
genuine cooperation and collaboration, or even a unified vision, seems 
extremely naive. I try to imagine how to get all the world's taxonomists 
to act in unison for the common good, and even the most likely scenarios 
seem improbable: (1: Democracy) if, rather than having a "select group" 
deciding on the official taxonomy, every single taxonomist, regardless 
of discipline, was allowed a single vote (thus, participation is out of 
self-interest, rather than requiring funding). This is probably 
technically feasible, but people would have to *unanimously* agree to 
participate AND agree to abide by the results of the voting. Given that 
some taxonomists refuse to accept even the premise of peer review, I 
cannot see how unanimous participation could ever be achieved, because 
these folks would be unwilling to have their work subjected to a vote. 
(2: Fear) if the non-taxonomists who control the funding for taxonomy 
become sufficiently annoyed with being told things like "There is no 
consensus as to which family that endangered species belongs to, or if 
it's even a species" then they could potentially consign us to oblivion 
- and the fear of us all collectively being unemployed if we can't get 
our act together might sufficiently motivate people (I'm reminded of 
Benjamin Franklin's famous quote: " We must, indeed, all hang together 
or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.") The problem with 
this, even if it should reach that unpleasant level, is that there will 
always be SOME taxonomists whose funding is secure, and they will not 
perceive a threat, feel no sense of urgency, nor see a reason to 
sacrifice their independence in order to help their less fortunate 

In either scenario, there would inevitably be some taxonomists who would 
absolutely refuse to cooperate, because the status quo *suits their 
purposes*. The ultimate question, then, is whether - in order to achieve 
a single unified classification of life - people would have the resolve 
to develop and implement such a system over the objections of all those 
who oppose it. If not, then any vision of a unified classification is 
dead in the water, and discussion is moot. If the best we can do is to 
simply list all the disputes, and tell non-taxonomists that it's up to 
them to choose which classification they want to follow, then we have no 
one but ourselves to blame for all the resulting antagonism, disdain, 
and lack of support for taxonomy. Yes, the existence of things like the 
APG do give me some hope, but it also highlights just how far we have 
yet to go.


Doug Yanega      Dept. of Entomology       Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314     skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

More information about the Taxacom mailing list