[Taxacom] Multiple views, singular views, and hopelessness

David Campbell pleuronaia at gmail.com
Sat Aug 31 10:20:39 CDT 2013

Part of the challenge here for the database (or whatever context) framework
is that there are several different causes and degrees of uncertainty in
taxonomy.  For example, splitting versus lumping may agree on the basic
phylogeny but disagree either on the number of categories or the
appropriate rank.  ("Rankless" classifications still rank the names by how
inclusive they are; they merely leave the category of each rank unnamed and
the selection of rank up to the whim of the individual.)  Some taxa are too
poorly studied to have a well-supported classification, whereas others are
well-studied but are difficult to place.  Different philosophy of
classification gives different names despite agreement on the units named.
For example, for higher taxa, should one use an older name with some
modification to the definition, or make a new one?  Should older
descriptive names at higher rank be replaced by typified names analogous to
what is required for familial names and below?

These different types of disagreement produce different types of
instability in classification.

On Sat, Aug 31, 2013 at 7:39 AM, Roderic Page <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk> wrote:

> At some level everything is complicated and contested, but to function we
> have to treat a significant part of the world as uncomplicated and
> straightforward so that we can deal with just that complexity that
> interests us. So, part of this discussion seems to be about what "users"
> need from taxonomy in order to do what they need to do. I suspect (but have
> no data) that most simply won't care about multiple hypotheses (in the same
> way I want a weather service to tell me if it will rain, not give me three
> alternative models and their predictions).
> I was struck by Paul's comment "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)."
> In one sense I agree. I use maps a lot, for the most part I don't care
> about a map of the world ("everything"), I just need a local map ("where is
> that place I want to have lunch at?"). But the infrastructure that enables
> me to have a local map is itself global: huge amounts of data have been
> collected, cleaned, munged together, reconciled, aligned with a common
> coordinate system, and made available, of which I see a tiny fraction of
> that on my iPhone. The question is local, the tool that gives me the answer
> is global.
> Regards
> Rod
> ---------------------------------------------------------
> 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
> Fax: +44 141 330 2792
> Skype: rdmpage
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> Home page: http://taxonomy.zoology.gla.ac.uk/rod/rod.html
> Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roderic_D._M._Page
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> Celebrating 26 years of Taxacom in 2013.

Dr. David Campbell
Assistant Professor, Geology
Department of Natural Sciences
Gardner-Webb University
Boiling Springs NC 28017

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