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

Neal Evenhuis neale at bishopmuseum.org
Wed Oct 30 19:50:25 CDT 2013

Mike has fallen into the trap may of us fall into (and duped Doug into a
response) -- confusing nomenclature and taxonomy.

The pedantic discussion here is nomenclature, not taxonomy. Taxonomy is
not suffering because nomenclaturalists are arguing how to spell names.
That's like saying that writers are suffering because editors are arguing
punctuation (which we do! - and just as much or more).

It just so happens the nomenclaturalists are discussing orthography rules
on a taxonomy list. Maybe it should be moved to a new list called


On Stardate 10/30/13 11:42 AM, "Doug Yanega" <dyanega at ucr.edu> wrote:

>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)
>              http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
>   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
>         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82
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>Celebrating 26 years of Taxacom in 2013.

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