[Taxacom] Botanical Plagiarism

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Mon Mar 11 19:17:32 CDT 2013

> Taxonomy is a subjective enterprise (based, hopefully, to some extent on 
> objective evidence, but ultimately requiring a decision/opinion), and
> is entitled to their opinion, even about things which they are not
"expert" on. 

I would rephrase this as, "Taxonomy is an enterprise that incorporates a
mixture of objective facts and subjective opinions.  The facts include
things like adherence to the rules of nomenclature, the presence of a
well-defined character state on a set of organisms, etc.  The opinions are
more along the lines of lumper v. splitter issues, and classification.  What
makes taxonomy a little weird is that the opinions are so fundamental, that
they effectively become facts. E.g., in Smith's "opinion", taxon X is a
synonym of taxon Y.  But the taxonomy relies heavily on the assemblage of
"facts" that include statements such as "In his 1955 treatment, Smith
regarded taxon X as a synonym of taxon Y."  Thus, facts about opinions are

> Therefore, if you, say, Rich, put on WoRMS your opinion that Cus dus is a 
> subjective synonym of Aus bus, and I, say, publish the same opinion, as 
> my own, without mentioning you, then I am just asserting my opinion, 
> wherever it came from, which is my right! 

Sure!  But it's less interesting and MUCH less informatically powerful to
know that "someone thinks that Cus dus is a  subjective synonym of Aus bus",
than it is to know that separately both Pyle an Thorpe independently
concluded that Cus dus is a  subjective synonym of Aus bus (and when they
made such assertions.

> Specimen data owned by institutions is another "can of worms" 
> (that's worms, not WoRMS!). If it from a publicly funded collection, 
> then there ought to be no copyright. 

Exactly -- which is why I added the caveat that I think our community should
establish a baseline that such information ought to be made available in the
public domain.  If not legally, then certainly socially.

Dave Shorthouse forwarded a blog post related to this recently.  For those
who haven't read it, you should:


P.S. I agree with Dean Pentcheff that the word "obvious" has no place in
discussions about copyright, and I therefore retract my use of that word
(and related adjective and adverb forms) from my previous posting.

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