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