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

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Sep 5 16:30:29 CDT 2013

I think that the "hypothesis" proponents are confusing two distinct things: 
(1) objective hypothesis testing; and
(2) changing one's opinions in the light of new information.
Although (2) applies to species proposals, I don't think that (1) does ..

From: Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
To: 'Fred Schueler' <bckcdb at istar.ca>; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
Sent: Friday, 6 September 2013 9:01 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Binomial Nomenclature - was: "cataloguing hypotheses & not real things"

> * I don't see how a proposed name (except objective synonyms) can be
> regarded as anything other than an hypothesis - "the individuals delimited
> this description, and including this type, are distinct species according
to the
> species concept currently endorsed by the describer." 

Hmmm.  Well, I would argue that in the vast majority of cases, describers of
new species do not represent their new species in the context of any
particular species concept.  Indeed, I bet most original descriptions follow
the same species concept that I (and, de-facto, most taxonomists throughout
history) follow:  "a species is what a [community of] taxonomist[s] says it

When I describe a new species, the working hypothesis I have is along the
lines of:

"Establishing a new species-group name to represent a set of organisms
circumscribed by this particular set of characters will facilitate
communication among biologists more than it will obfuscate communication
among biologists."

Thus, my "hypothesis" is more about efficiency of communication among humans
than it is about biological entities in nature.  My hypothesis is verified
or falsified through subsequent treatment of my name (and the species it
serves as proxy for) by the broader community over time.  Continued
recognition of my species tends to support the hypothesis. Consistent
treatment of my species as a junior heterotypic synonym tends to falsify my

> The hypothesis is
> falsified if new patterns of variation are discovered which either split
or lump
> the proposed entity, and the hypothesis is made more or less irrelevant by
> changed species concept, though the name hangs on as a nomenclatoral
> attachment to the type specimen.

If it were true that most splitter/lumper debates are based on new patterns
of variation, then I might be inclined to agree.  But I don't think that's
what most such debates are focused on -- at least not the ones I've been
privy too.  In most cases, the debaters agree on the basic evidence, but
diswagree (subjectively) on where it is best to draw species lines.  Another
way to look at is is that some taxonomists want to draw species boundaries
in such a way that they emphasize similarities, and others want to draw
species boundaries in such a way that they emphasize differences.  My
tendency is to draw lines in such a way that I think will best facilitate
communication among biologists -- which sometimes trends towards splitting
and sometimes trends towards lumping (both of which are overshadowed by a
trend towards stability).


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