[Taxacom] Paper on taxonomic standards in herpetology

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Wed May 15 17:04:54 CDT 2013

On 5/15/13 12:48 PM, JF Mate wrote:
> "To close this supposed loophole you would have to totally redefine the
> criteria constituting a published work (ie. Article 8), especially if you
> would restrict all nomenclatorial acts to peer reviewed journals only."
> It seems that the issue is limited to section 8.1, as to what constitutes a
> valid work. Adding additional limitations to the effect of avoiding
> flagrant conflict of interests (i.e. you canĀ“t own the journal, be the
> editor and publish in it simultaneously) should be possible without
> impinging too much on the varied offer of publication outlets that we
> currently have.
There are a number of possible solutions; to be taken seriously, each 
has to be evaluated for a number of criteria - (off the top of my head) 
How easy is it to implement? How easy is it to identify infractions? How 
easy would it be to circumnavigate? How objective is it?  How easy would 
it be to apply retroactively? etc.

In this framework, any proposal to define the *kind* of publication 
venue that is or is not Code-compliant is going to fail the test. The 
criterion above is trivial to circumnavigate, as is any proposal to use 
peer-review (witness Calodema). If one wishes to completely exclude all 
variants of self-publishing, the most conventional method one could use 
is to establish a formal "white list" of approved journals, which would 
even EXCLUDE peer-reviewed journals that did not meet some subjective 
level of quality - but, even that approach fails the tests of 
objectivity and implementation.

Myself, I see two primary approaches as having potential, depending on 
how much the community wants to delegate responsibility. We could, in 
the next Code edition, expand and incorporate the "Code of Ethics" 
recommendations presently in the Code, formalizing them as Articles and 
making it explicit that names published in contravention of the Ethical 
rules are subject to suppression. Then, in addition to the present body 
of applications the Commission receives to vote on, we would also be 
voting on whether or not to suppress names for which the arguments are 
convincing that the author(s) acted unethically. This delegates 
responsibility to taxonomists who are motivated to cry foul, and to the 
Commissioners who would then have to evaluate the claims and make a 
ruling. In the present case, Kaiser et al. would be able to submit an 
application to summarily suppress all of Hoser's works, presenting 
relevant evidence, and have the Commission vote on it, citing violation 
of the new "ethics" Articles. The problem is that this potentially drags 
the Commission into matters of taxonomic opinion; the question is 
whether we can phrase the ethical guidelines in such a way that they 
address negative impact on *nomenclature*. While I agree with Neal about 
the effective "separation of powers," I also see that there are places 
where the overlap is enough to justify a change - e.g., if an author 
post-2000 defines a taxon using a type specimen which they never 
personally examined, or diagnoses a taxon as occupying a certain node on 
a cladogram, etc., then things like that *predictably and demonstrably* 
threaten nomenclatural stability, even though not presently in violation 
of the Code. We could potentially make such things violations in the 
next Code, if we take a broader view regarding impacts upon 
nomenclature. One thing Kaiser et al. do make clear is that nomenclature 
is suffering, and continuing to turn a blind eye to it is not ultimately 
doing nomenclature any favors.

The other alternative is to overhaul the present LAN mechanism, so 
individual names or works can be added or subtracted from the Official 
Lists in a timely fashion, rather than requiring the entirety of a 
single taxonomic discipline to be covered in a single massive act that 
takes years to compile, to debate, and then vote on. However, the only 
way this fine level of detail would be practical is if there were an 
online interface which allowed for real-time debate and used verifiable 
IDs to allow for a democratized voting process; a taxonomic social 
medium. That is, the Commission cannot be expected to vote one by one 
for every name or work ever published (which is the ultimate endpoint 
for the Official Lists), but the *community* could, if given the right 
interface. In the present case, Kaiser et al. would submit a proposal 
for a public vote (by registered users) as to whether Hoser's works 
should be suppressed, and the votes would be visible and non-anonymous; 
a minimum number of votes would need to be cast, and a specific 
threshold of a majority would be required. This sort of mechanism would 
potentially dovetail with the ongoing development of ZooBank, which 
already requires unique, non-anonymous registration AND has ethical 
guidelines in place, violation of which can cost users their privileges.

It is my personal opinion (and, admittedly, perhaps ONLY my opinion) 
that if we can democratize the Code without sacrificing the underlying 
principles ("sense and stability") it's a good thing, if for no other 
reason than a more personal level of involvement - on the part of each 
individual taxonomist - will *strengthen* people's desire to understand 
and apply the Code, rather than weakening it. All of the technical 
hurdles that one can think of have long since been passed; I'm not even 
convinced that we need to have a hard-bound edition of the Code ever 
again. As such, I personally favor the latter approach; any time an 
issue arises, air it out in public, and let the taxonomic community make 
the call. The Commission would still guide and advise and clarify, but 
at least certain types of issues would be acted upon in the collective 
environment (and once a name is on a LAN, it is set in stone, so the 
potential cleanup work left would be diminished, ratchet-like, with 
every such addition). If we can have a rational and civil discourse, in 
which the bulk of the taxonomic community takes an active interest, I 
think we can do significantly better than the status quo, for a number 
of issues facing us - beyond just the present topic of taxonomic vandalism.


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

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