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

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Mon Sep 2 15:28:21 CDT 2013

The problem won't go away by creation of a new system of nomenclature (which I advise against), not unless we want to throw out 250 yrs worth of accumulated biological knowledge about named taxa! A system change would only make things easier from its inception, but we would still have to make sense of everything which came before ...

From: Curtis Clark <lists at curtisclark.org>
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
Sent: Tuesday, 3 September 2013 8:02 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Binomial Nomenclature - was: "cataloguing hypotheses & not real things"

On 2013-09-02 11:38 AM, Dan Lahr wrote:
> 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.

The paradigm shift was Darwin, and the idea that higher-level 
classification reflects something in nature rather than an artificial 
"system of convenience". Hennig simply affirmed that the "something" was 
monophyletic groups.

Fred Schueler reminds us that “It’s ironic that the anarchy of ‘descent 
with modification by natural selection’ should give rise to the only 
really important or useful natural hierarchical arrangement we know of.” 
Linnaeus was attempting to distinguish the individual species created by 
God, and yet his system has worked for 250 years.

It's important only to a historian of science which of the four elements 
were involved in the metal mercury. But biologists even centuries ago 
recognized units of the natural world that we still find useful. It's 
true that I can't pick up a work from 1870 and be secure in recognizing 
the names of species, but there are nomenclators to help me with that. I 
can definitely be confident in recognizing names in a work from 1970.

If we make a major change in nomenclature, we will need nomenclators for 
everything (most people on this list agree that is a noble goal, even if 
a few think it is impractical), and we'll need a list of names in 
current use (the bacteriologists have been there for a while, and the 
other codes are coming around). These are *prerequisites* for a 
fundamental change in nomenclature, lest it throw us into the dark ages 
of redescribing everything. The bacteriologists were successful in 
making such a change (although many would argue it doesn't go far 
enough), but there's a lot of work left to be done for everyone else.

Curtis Clark        http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark
Biological Sciences                  +1 909 869 4140
Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona CA 91768

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