[Taxacom] ICZN and Wikispecies (was Re: "nude" Coccinellid genera?)

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Sat Mar 9 12:50:23 CST 2013

Jsaon Mate wrote:

>I am very sorry for my very late reply, but work has kept me away. In
>your email you said that:
>>  Speaking as a Commissioner, I can confidently say this could never
>>  happen, for one very obvious reason: the ICZN deals only with
>>  nomenclature, not taxonomy, and Wikispecies deals with taxonomy.
>However we have to be realistic. Only a few thousand people will
>notice (or care) about the distinction between nomenclature and
>taxonomy. Most information users are not taxonomists but biologists,
>conservationists, etc and they donĀ“t really care about the process
>behind their only want, a list that is to the best possible degree
>accurate and up to date. In fact ZooBank, although very useful to
>taxonomists, should be piggy-backed within such a list.

There is a very big difference, conceptually and 
*especially* in a political sense, between 
resources developed in parallel versus resources 
that are "merged" (your *original* suggestion, as 
opposed to "piggy-backing"). Merging would imply 
that the Commissioners of the different Codes 
such as myself would not only be arbitrating 
disputes over which name to use when two taxa are 
declared to be synonymous, but ALSO deciding 
whether those taxa are synonyms to *begin with*. 
The various Codes of Nomenclature have always 
maintained a very strict policy of neutrality on 
issues of *classification* and *validity* of 
taxa; if author X says taxon A is a valid species 
in family B, but author Y says taxon A is a 
synonym of taxon C and belongs in family D, then 
the ICZN has nothing to say about any of that. We 
(please don't forget that the ICZN is not the 
only ruling body involved) could not merge with 
Wikispecies and maintain our neutrality. There is 
no parallel "ruling body" that can settle 
disputes over classification and - to be 
perfectly honest - the taxonomic community seems 
to have so many factions and "iconoclasts" that I 
find it hard to imagine how any sort of ruling 
body could ever come into being, let alone 
maintain any semblance of authority if it did. 
Just look at the difficulties encountered in 
trying to have a unified nomenclatural Code!

>I am not saying ICZN should be running a list of everything, I am
>suggesting that they should be working together with others
>(Wikispecies comes to mind because I am an entomologist)  to produce a
>single source of taxonomic information that also integrates the
>nomenclatural data to make the list complete, accurate and ultimately
>useful to all parties, with a mechanism that allows the financial
>viability of the enterprise without excluding (i.e. not paying 20
>dollars every time you want to access it). It could also serve as a
>repository of orphan websites. A lot of work has been done already by
>individuals working on their own groups but when they retire or die
>these online resources disappear, even if they were in a museum.

And I am saying that the Commissioners would be 
working in a vacuum, since there are no "others" 
to work with - no parallel ruling body - that has 
the authority to declare an official, single 
classification hierarchy (I don't think even the 
ICSP does this), or the authority to declare 
which taxa are or are not valid. Whether it's 
Wikispsecies, EoL, GenBank, or any other entity, 
just because there is an infrastructure does not 
mean there is any authoritative oversight, and I 
can't see how this endeavor could succeed in the 
long term *without* some form of authority - and 
every time this sort of thing has come up in the 
past, people have vigorously shot down *any* 
proposals to limit the autonomy of taxonomists. 
That is not to say that I (and others) don't 
perceive a NEED for a unified taxonomic resource, 
and that a certain percentage of taxonomists 
might be willing to tolerate a loss of autonomy, 
but if this feeling is not *unanimous*, what are 
the odds of it ever happening?

To get back to the idea of "piggybacking", yes, 
it would be fantastic if ZooBank could establish 
some deep-pocketed alliance, such as with GenBank 
or the Wikimedia Foundation, but I can't see how 
it could ever function as anything other than an 
independent entity in regards to its 
decision-making and administration. Again, the 
distinction between "merging" and "piggy-backing" 
is not a trivial one. Maybe you originally had 
one thing in mind, but phrased it differently, 
and it seems to you I'm playing a game of 
semantics, but this is very important to clarify. 
If we can't even "merge" the zoological, 
botanical (there are 2 separate botanical Codes - 
the ICN and ICNCP), viral, and bacterial Codes, 
we're a long way from any other sort of mergers.

>Have the Code online with DOIs and hyperlinks to all the acts instead
>of a printed version and let it be part of your annual taxonomists

Trust me, the ICZN is definitely discussing the 
possibility of doing away with a printed version 
(at least, a *bound* version as opposed to, say, 
PDF). But even *that* idea is likely to encounter 
significant resistance.

>Of course we could just let EoLbecome THE source of all wisdom and
>then complain about the quality of their work before the party moves
>on and it also disappears together will all the information.

The one resource in existence that we can 
confidently state will never disappear (short of 
the collapse of civilization) is GenBank, because 
there are substantial *commercial* interests at 
stake, and money makes the world go 'round. 
Objectively, that would be the ideal choice for 
piggy-backing. The Wikimedia Foundation seems 
unlikely to ever collapse to the point where all 
their resources would be *lost*, but I'm not sure 
how that compares to GenBank.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard 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

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