[Taxacom] Paper on taxonomic standards in herpetology

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Wed May 22 23:35:24 CDT 2013

On 5/22/13 2:55 AM, Raymond Hoser wrote:
> Doug, you wrote:
> “That is an extremely interesting statement coming from someone who does
> not publish in peer reviewed journals.”
> You are wrong here.Excluding the recent papers in recent journal I 
> control which IS peer reviewed (just not by your mates), I have 
> published dozens of papers in other recognized peer reviewed journals 
> since 1980 of which I have no editorial control or influence, which 
> you would be aware of had you bothered to check before sprouting false 
> and defamatory comments here!
The Australasian Journal of Herpetology is the one publication I have 
read, and I've seen quite a lot of it. It is clearly self-published, and 
self-reviewed.I admit to not being familiar with your work prior to the 
start of that journal, though I also recognize that there are many 
journals that follow PRINO (peer review in name only). This is one of 
the major sticking points of the entire "quality control in the Code" 
debate over the years, and you yourself have accused Kaiser, Wuster, and 
others of publishing in PRINO journals; it would not be surprising if 
they or others accused you of the same thing. That kind of back and 
forth nonsense gets us collectively nowhere. Over the many times the 
issue has come up, one of the common remarks has been "We can't use peer 
review, in and of itself, as a criterion, because peer review can be 
biased" - and I agree. The follow-up comment is usually "The only thing 
that works in the long run, separating good science from bad, is whether 
people accept your work or reject it". What I have repeatedly suggested, 
generally finding only ambivalent support (at best), is that all 
nomenclatural acts be channeled through a public-access, public-review 
online journal that covers all zoological nomenclature. Public review 
exposes any bias, and falsehoods can't persist in the face of full 
> “ If you do not dispute this is the acceptable medium, and support 
> making peer review a criterion in the
> Code, then, unless I'm sorely mistaken, all of your papers would be
> excluded.”
> See above – you are sorely mistaken.
> An apology would be nice!
I apologize to the extent that the peer-reviewed journals you have 
published in would not qualify as PRINO journals. You'll forgive me if I 
don't have time to do the necessary research to determine this - but 
this is all the more reason I was trying to make it clear that the 
specifics of your situation are not crucial to the bigger debate.
> It is inevitable the rules will be changed in the future, as they have 
> in the past. However without compliance you have chaos.This is exactly 
> what your friend Wolfgang wants and you seem to be actively encouraging!
There are already people who are refusing to comply with various parts 
of the Code, so that sort of chaos is the status quo. The hope is that 
any changes we make will improve compliance.
> For a more specific example of the lies by the Wuster gang, 
> cross-proven against your own statement (Doug) above, I refer you to a 
> recent Facebook post by Mark O’Shea on 19 March 2013 which reads
> *“**The PoV also has the backing of the International Commission for 
> Zoological Nomenclature. Authors of herpetological papers wishing to 
> avoid the use of names by Hoser and Wells can cite this Point of View."*
I was unaware of this quote, and can only offer two points regarding it: 
(1) there were certainly discussions with Commissioners prior to the 
publication of the PoV, during the review process, but it is - I agree - 
not fair to equate "reviewed by members of the Commission" with "backed 
by the Commission". In the most literal sense, since they criticize you 
for things outside the Code's jurisdiction, and since the approach 
advocates measures outside the Code's jurisdiction, the Commission's 
position would be NEUTRAL. If we could stop taxonomists from acting in 
non-compliant manners, that might change the equation, but we have no 
such power, and even then, it could still devolve to a philosophical 
debate (should we alwaysapprove of actions that follow the letter of the 
Code but violate its intent, and reject actions that uphold the intent 
but violate the letter?) (2) If you replace the word "Commission" with 
"Code" then the above statement would read as a claim that the proposed 
actions are Code-compliant - and such a claim is open to interpretation 
and debate.

I will reiterate that actions taken outside the Code do not require 
support from the Commission; whether they are followed is up to the 
individuals that comprise the taxonomic community, and as far as I can 
see, they will receive neither our blessing nor our curse, at least 
under the present Code.
> Tell me Doug, how do you feel about the ICZN being misrepresented this 
> way by the authors of Wuster et al. (Kaiser et al) to create taxonomic 
> and nomenclatural chaos?
I would say the statement above is misleading, though a more accurate 
re-phrasing would not necessarily be to your satisfaction (i.e., if they 
said "The Commission takes a neutral position on activities outside of 
the Code's jurisdiction").
> Are you going to tell them to “cease and desist”?
I suspect they are following the discussion, and I would encourage them 
to reconsider the phrasing of the above claim.
> Are you going to concede that Wuster et al. have been dishonest in 
> their attempts to manufacture alleged support for their active 
> stepping outside of the rules?
Until and unless I gain the power of telepathy, I'm not in a position to 
do anything but hypothesize whether dishonesty is involved, and on whose 
part. Given that both sides in this case accuse the other of dishonesty, 
it's not profitable to assume anything other than both sides believe 
they are telling the truth.
> If you bothered to read 23 of the code, you’d be well aware of what 
> the section includes and excludes for reversal of priority and it is 
> not for the purpose of renaming validly named taxa, for which the 
> proper names are well-known, widely published and databased!
I'm quite familiar with Article 23, and it deals with issues surrounding 
prevailing usage; I don't see the parameters "well-known", "widely 
published" or "databased" mentioned in the text. The closest phrase 
you'll find there is "used...in at least 25 works, published by at least 
10 authorsin the immediately preceding 50 years". And, that particular 
section applies only to names not used since 1899, so it is not 
pertinent. The pertinent article is (if anything) 23.9.3, which allows 
authors to challenge ANY senior synonym if they feel it would "threaten 
stability or universality or cause confusion", but requires that they 
ask the Commission for a ruling. That article could indeed be invoked 
for the purpose of renaming validly named taxa of recent vintage, though 
it might definitely be a "hard sell" to convince the Commission to 
support it if the senior synonym is in prevailing usage. And, once 
again, you seem to be arguing as if you can use Code-compliance as a 
defense - even if your names are fully Code-compliant, neither you nor I 
can do anything to stop other people from ignoring your names and not 
using them.You are standing up and saying "My names are Code-compliant, 
and therefore you are forced to use them" and that is not literally 
true, because the Code cannot force anyone to do anything - it tells 
people what they SHOULD do in order to be compliant. There are LOTS of 
taxonomists who do things that are not Code-compliant. Don't think for a 
minute that, as a Commissioner, I am unaware of this and not bothered by 
it. However, MY personal response to knowing that there are people 
breaking the rules is first to understand WHY they are doing so, and 
then considering the possibility that therules themselves might need to 
be changed - just like we saw with paleontologists publishing names in 
e-only journals *before* we changed the rules to allow them to do so and 
still be compliant.
> And you cannot here deny that all the Hoser and Wells names have been 
> published at least twice in different and widely circulated 
> herpetological journals and are now well-known as being validly 
> published and available, one of course being a publication you seem to 
> endorse, namely “Herpetological Review”.
Again, you are fighting over details that change nothing even if they 
are interpreted in your favor. The issue is that people are organizing a 
boycott against your works, and your argument that they can't do that 
because your works are Code-compliant doesn't seem to be working. You 
might need to worry less about convincing people that you aren't 
violating the Code and more about convincing them that your names are 
WORTH USING. Worthinessis a taxonomic issue, not nomenclatural.
> You would also be aware that the ICZN has already ruled against the 
> Wuster et al scheme several times, so how do you feel about promoting 
> instability in nomenclature so that a whole bunch of unnecessary cases 
> go before the commission and waste fellow commissioners time?
You may not be aware that I have often advocated that we change how the 
community and the Commission interact to allow the community to vote 
directly on matters, rather than delegating all voting to the 
Commission. Cases like yours are one of the arguments in favor of such a 
mechanism. The mechanism I've proposed has the same benefits ofa LAN 
application without the unwieldy bureaucratic aspects imposed by 
publishing in the BZN and giving multiple years for commentsto be 
published. Specifically, I advocate a mechanism which streamlines the 
functions presently incorporated into Article 79 (especially see Article 
79.4) so that they can be applied immediately to individual names, and 
without having to delegate the responsibility for the decision to the 
Commission. Imagine if the day a publication comes out, it is posted to 
a website where every practicing taxonomist (not just herpetologists) 
can see it and vote whether to accept or reject the names therein for 
inclusion into ZooBank. After a critical number of votes, and assuming 
the votes are a significant supermajority (maybe as high as 90%), the 
names are permanently fixed as either available or unavailable. The 
interval of "taxonomic chaos" where no one knows whether or not they 
should use a new name could be as little as a few weeks, depending on 
how quickly votes accumulate. Under such a system, there is no 
instability, and there is no wasting of the Commission's time. Under the 
status quo, of course, if every practicing taxonomist simply ignores all 
of your names, then no cases at all will be submitted to the Commission.
> Or Doug how about just one specific case so we know exactly where you 
> stand ... do you seriously support Wuster’s push to rename the snake 
> genus Broghammerus? A name valid under the code and widely used for a 
> decade? Yes or no?
Why would my personal opinion on that case matter? Where I stand is "I 
see people arguing over names, and the arguments from both sides go 
beyond the Code, so obviously we have a bigger problem on our hands".
> Naming issues arise only if and when it is decided a taxon is valid 
> and unnamed. Wuster et. al. have implicitly assumed that the 
> Hoser/Wells taxa are valid and need renaming.This is clear for example 
> in his online posts telling people to rename Broghammerus.You cannot 
> claim no ICZN jurisdiction now!
What the ICZN can say is: "The valid name for this taxon is 
Broghammerus, and should be used instead of any junior synonyms." My 
point is that simply saying this cannot *compel* people to use the name 
if they choose to ignore the Code; if they choose to ignore the Code, 
that choice puts them outside our jurisdiction. It's analogous to Alice 
declaring "You're nothing but a pack of cards!"  - the Commission (and 
you) can holler "Off with their heads!" but we can't actually implement 
it if they refuse to recognize our authority.
> Do you support the Wuster plan of boycott of names and renaming of 
> taxa in breach of the three critical rules of, 1/ Homonymy (Principal 
> 5, Article 52 and elsewhere), 2/ Priority (Principal 3, Article 23 and 
> elsewhere) and 3/ Stability (Principal 4, Articles 23, 65 and 
> elsewhere) in order to rename validly named taxa? Yes or no?
If their sole argument was something along the lines of "These names are 
not Code-compliant, therefore we should ignore them"then I would 
probably disagree with them. But throughout that paper, aside from the 
one section about "Working with the Code", their arguments focus on the 
quality of your taxonomy; viewing the issue as a Commissioner, opinions 
about your taxonomy are not for me to either support or reject. They are 
leveling criticisms regarding taxonomic issues, which the Code does not 
(presently) cover, and they even specifically say "violating the spirit 
of the Code" - as a Commissioner, I can't address violations of spirit 
(even though as a taxonomist, I can). Again, if they were using the Code 
itself as the basis of their claims against you, and suggesting a course 
of action which is not Code-compliant as a result, that would not gain 
much (if any) support from the Commission. In fact, they criticize the 
Code itself as containing loopholes, and that is of considerable concern.
> By the way Doug, you are wrong to allege I am defending my taxonomic 
> opinions. I have published the papers and they stand on their merits.I 
> see no need to defend the taxonomy at all.
It is becoming obvious that this is why the argument is drawing on so 
long; you seem to be missing the point that Kaiser et al. are EXPLICITLY 
claiming that you and Wells are practicing "unscientific taxonomy" (the 
focus of most of the chapters in the PoV), and THAT charge is the one 
you need to defend yourself against. Just because your works are 
Code-compliant doesn't make them scientific; by invoking the Code (as 
you do immediately above) you are offering a defense that only works 
against an accusation of Code violation - of which they are not accusing 
> You wrote: “Having read a few hundred of your new taxon names,
> I admit that as a taxonomist, I find the majority to be singularly
> lacking in "robustness" (typically failing criteria such as, say,
> molecular support, evidence for monophyly, and the sample size upon
> which they are based).”
> Well you are obviously not reading the papers I wrote!
I was specifically reading and referring to the bulk of what has been 
published in AJH.
> BUT – there is no need to create instability and new (synonym) names 
> for the purposes of needing ICZN intervention!The code is designed to 
> avoid this so you are now in effect stepping outside of it’s preamble 
> by encouraging Wuster’s plan to create instability of nomenclature!
I am not encouraging instability; (1) I cannot prevent them from asking 
for a boycott, which is not the same as encouraging it, and (2) given 
that I *am* genuinely concerned about stability, there is nothing stable 
about having a constant tug-of-war between two sets of names in the 
literature - but if one set of names vanishes from the literature, then 
stability is achieved.
> Noting this, will you Doug, now tell Wuster et al to cease and desist 
> with their plan to destabilize the nomenclature?
Their plan appears to be to stabilize the nomenclature by eliminating 
your names forever; if their plan succeeds, then that WOULD achieve 
stabilization. Under the Code, the opposite set of names would be the 
ones eliminated.
> “While the Code doesn't support "boycotting", it also can't
> prevent it”
> Yes it can and quite simply. This is by enforcing the rule of 
> priority. If this is not done, and if the Wuster plan gains support 
> and traction and is copied elsewhere (and perhaps with your active 
> encouragement), you WILL have taxonomic chaos and an end of the 
> code.This is exactly why the ICZN has ruled emphatically against the 
> Wuster-type shenanigans several times in the past!
Enforce? Us and what army? I am frankly more concerned about "chaos and 
an end of the Code" if we have large numbers of taxonomists who feel 
that the Code is full of unacceptable loopholes, and feel that the 
Commission is deaf to their concerns (e.g., that we specifically turn a 
blind eye to any and all "malfeasance" just so long as things are 


(P.S.) I see, as I'm about to submit this edited post, that you replied 
to my unfinished draft after I specifically requested that you NOT do 
so. Bravo, sir. You have just created instability in this dialogue.

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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