[Taxacom] Binomial Nomenclature - was: "cataloguing hypotheses & not real things"

Dan Lahr dlahr at ib.usp.br
Mon Sep 2 13:38:27 CDT 2013

Hi David and all,

There are no more combinations using the binomial system because there is
no size limit to the words -- and if there are, the amount of possible
names using a single word is so enormous to make this "advantage"

Someone came up with the astounding figure of over 10 to the power of 70
possible words in the English language, if the maximum length is 14
syllables (taken as the limit from Mary Poppins' word superblbalbalb). The
rules this person used are completely within the requirements of the code
[1], basically, that the word needs to be "pronounceable".

Most of the criticism from people in this list seems to center around this
statement: "accumulated tradition of over 250 years".

This invites the question: how long do we think nomenclature and taxonomy
is supposed to last? The history of the periodic table of elements bears a
lot of resemblance, and can be read in a really interesting book available
on Google Books [2].  Before Mendeleev, people were classifying substances
according basically to some variation of Aristotle's compositional view,
even in the seventeenth century tria prima (mercury sulfur salt), from
Paracelsus.  When Mendeleev introduced the table, people needed to change
several centuries of accumulated tradition.  I am sure nobody will argue
that it was a bad move.

I do realize that this analogy stretches the current situation in taxonomy,
because along with Mendeleev's introduction of the periodic table was
associated with a major paradigm shift (to which he immensely contributed)
of using atomic weights to classify elements.

Well, we have had the paradigm shift some decades ago (Hennig), but have
not had the associated change in nomenclature.  The dual nature of genera
will eventually have to come to an end, as it is a relict from a time when
species names reflected the classification thoroughly.  This is not the
case anymore.

Better to fix 250 years than a 1000, or more.




1 -
2 - From Elements to Atoms: A History of Chemical Composition, Volume 92,
Robert Siegfried

On Mon, Sep 2, 2013 at 4:21 PM, David Campbell <pleuronaia at gmail.com> wrote:

> An advantage of a multinomial system (whether or not each multinomial can
> change) is that it provides many more combinations than a single string of
> letters.  In taxonomic practice, this allows common adjectives to be
> applied to many different genus names while maintaining a difference.
> There are at least three challenges to establishing a different system.
> First is the accumulated tradition of over 250 years.  A new system must
> have adequate compatibility with that tradition to have workable
> connections to the existing literature, in addition to the problem of
> individual or group unwillingness to change.  Secondly, we have the
> tradition that the genus name tells us something about the affinities of
> the organism, and dropping that tradition would significantly change the
> function of a scientific name.  Thirdly, there is the difficulty of finding
> a new system that is not significantly unwieldy.  Far too many of the
> Phylocode-type proposals for major modifications to the current system
> either do not take a realistic approach to the existing literature (e.g.,
> assuming that homonymous species epithets rarely occur in the same
> publication, or even rarely in the same phylum) or else seem to have
> forgotten that not all users of the system are computers (just make Pinus
> albus Pinus_albus2378595678XYGD438756 and everything will be fine).  Such
> unwieldy strings are not only hard for humans to remember but hard to
> error-check.
> Perhaps the best of both worlds is to have a unique computer tag for each
> proposed name, linkable to whatever traditional-style binomen a given
> taxonomist believes to be appropriate.
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Daniel J. G. Lahr, PhD
Assist. Prof., Dept of Zoology,
Univ. of Sao Paulo, Brazil
+ 55 (11) 3091 0948

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