[Taxacom] Somewhat OT, was Re: New species of the future

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Wed Oct 30 16:42:23 CDT 2013

On 10/30/13 1:40 PM, Michael A. Ivie wrote:
> The reason that important people involved in science (those who allocate
> money and make hiring decisions) think taxonomists are not important and
> unworthy of support is that they think we will waste a hundred posts
> dithering on about the ridiculous issue of ending a name with "a" or
> "us" in various versions of a dead language that has no connection at
> all to actual science.  Maybe they are right? Twenty years from now,
> this conversation will be properly understood as ridiculous.
I agree to a large extent, but not fully - otherwise I wouldn't be here 
prolonging this ridiculous issue. I want this conversation to seem 
ridiculous in 20 years because we will have found a solution.
>    Get an
> identifier on a taxon, make sure is it unique, and leave it be.  No one
> (in the statistical sense) in the biochem department cares (and they
> have funding for a reason).
Here's the thing about this. It seems that virtually everyone is in one 
of two camps - either gender agreement is utterly pointless and we have 
to abandon it, OR the status quo must be preserved exactly as it is, 
because change is bad.

The "abandon" camp argues that incessantly changing spelling creates 
problems in data management, AND requires taxonomists become scholars in 
dead languages. Those are very significant arguments. The "status quo" 
camp argues that arbitrarily fixing names as immutable violates 
centuries of tradition, as well as destabilizing existing names (e.g., 
if every common bee or wasp in the world had its species name reverted 
to the original spelling, HUNDREDS of well-known masculine species would 
suddenly be changed to feminine, since they were originally described in 
Apis and Vespa). Those are ALSO significant arguments.

I have always maintained that there is a compromise that is allowed by 
technology - NOT the status quo - which can accommodate the problems 
perceived by both camps. We can establish and maintain a centralized 
global archive of taxon names that specifies the gender of every genus, 
and specifies whether any given species name is a noun or adjective (if 
the latter, it will display all three adjectival forms). That archive 
will have an underlying machine-readable unique ID invisible to human 
eyes, unambiguously linked to any given taxon name. That underlying ID 
can be embedded in any digital publications that refer to that taxon. 
All of the possible alternative spellings and combinations, even common 
names, can be linked to the same invariant underlying ID. Imagine, for 
example, if every online document that referred to the "monarch 
butterfly" had a hyperlink, and when you moused over "monarch 
butterfly", a tooltip said "Danaus plexippus (Linnaeus, 1758)" and 
clicking on it took you to the centralized archive with the entire 
description of the taxon. And if you want to know how to spell a name 
when moving it into a different genus, the archive will SHOW you how to 
spell it, instead of you having to find a Latin dictionary and figure it 
out yourself. This would alleviate the concerns of the "abandon" camp 
AND the concerns of the "status quo" camp.

The ridiculous thing, to my mind, is arguing instead of looking for a 
solution that everyone can live with, and then working to make it happen.


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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