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

Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at freeler.nl
Fri Aug 30 13:28:47 CDT 2013

From: "Doug Yanega" <dyanega at ucr.edu>
Sent: Thursday, August 29, 2013 8:41 PM

> This runs afoul of the exact same issue: such a system would not give a 
> single answer to a simple question like "What family is this plant in?". 
> It gives an enormously esoteric and complicated answer that makes sense 
> only to a taxonomist who is family with plant taxonomy - "Here are the 
> 15 competing classifications, in which this plant is in family X in 9 of 
> them, family Y in 4 of them, and family Z in 2; of the three most recent 
> classifications, it was placed in X twice and Z once, with Z based on 
> chloroplast DNA sequencing." That sort of answer is precisely the kind 
> of thing that confirms the impression of taxonomy as hopelessly 
> impractical. 

That is debatable. In the absense of a One-Shop-Stopping Resource
not only based on an authoritative consensus classification, but 
also containing a compilation of everything in the literature, it is an 
oversimplification to assume The One Average User: different
users will have different needs. The person who wants a classification
of everything, all at once, is actually pretty rare and certainly he 
won't actually need it: he will only want it (and perhaps only 
because he cannot have it).

Some groups of users have simple needs and the famed
ornithologists do fine even without scientific names. There 
are other groups of users with relatively simple needs and
there is an enormous amount of books available tailored
to just their needs. However, there are also users whose
needs are not so simple and who want to use names to
access information in the existing literature. These users
would be greatly helped by a database of competing 
classifications, not only of orders, families, but also of
genera and species. In the absense of such a resource
a user can be thrown by a statement in the literature like
"family Such-and-Such has so-and-so properties"; this 
can only be understood properly if he knows (or can 
look up) what the family comprises in that context.


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