[Taxacom] Call for Comments: Taxonomic Practice and the Code

David Campbell pleuronaia at gmail.com
Wed Jan 8 10:35:29 CST 2014

Perhaps it would be more useful to focus on a couple of older examples.

>From the mid-1800's to early 1900's, Bourguignat and colleagues, known as
the Nouvelle Ecole, created new genera and species primarily for non-marine
mollusks if they could tell the specimens apart.  By not taking
ecophenotypic or even individual variation into account, huge numbers of
names were created.  The names are generally nomenclaturally legal and
often figures and locality information are quite good; the types are also
generally available.

Besides the extreme splitting, there are other anomalies such as the fact
that Bourguignat sometimes wrote papers under the names of his colleagues.

Most contemporary workers, and many since then, have simply ignored the
names, especially the generic names created by adding -iana to a species
name.  Others have simply lumped them wholesale into the oldest similar
taxon.  A few have recognized several of their taxa.  However, molecular
and detailed morphological studies suggest that widespread polymorphic
species may in fact be multiple species, and new characters likewise can
suggest new groupings.  Often, a Nouvelle Ecole name can be found that
applies to a newly-validated taxon.  With some taxonomists a priori
ignoring the names and others trying to figure out what they apply to,
there is confusion.  As an added complication, some of the few modern
workers who have accepted their names as valid have ignored the
recommendation on near tautonomy and chosen other type species for genera
whose names derive from a particular species.  Thus, although the last of
their work is about a century old, the Nouvelle Ecole names remain

Another example comes from the names of Rafinesque, from the early 1800's.
His descriptions were often brief and his illustrations, if any, poor.  As
one of the first naturalists reaching the interior of North America, he
named everything he could, including a couple of fictional species drawn by
Audubon (in revenge for Rafinesque destroying his violin in an attempt to
collect bats).  This included the freshwater mollusks.  Isaac Lea set
himself up as the authority on freshwater mollusks, and had the wealth and
the printing company to publish detailed descriptions and excellent
figures.  Lea was generally quite reluctant to accept the validity of any
name not authored by himself, especially Rafinesque's and Conrad's names
but also others.   (Lea persistently claimed that names were valid from the
date when they were read to a scientific society, if before the publication
date, but never seems to have investigated when anyone else's names had
been read.)  Although the identity of several Rafinesque mollusk names
remain unclear, many that Lea rejected have been widely recognized
(including a few recognized by Lea in his earliest publications).
Conversely, some workers have recognized Rafinesque names that most other
workers deem unrecognizable.

Again, we have a set of old names that are both at the center of lingering
controversy over their validity and are receiving new interest due to the
results of new analyses that support the systematic validity of previously
unrecognized groups.

Indeed, it is a complicated situation, and drawing a line is hard.  Getting
all the existing names online would be desirable, but requires someone's
time and effort to thoroughly examine the literature, an activity that
proceeds especially slowly if it is unpaid.  Going to the original is
always necessary, as later authors too often repeat or create errors, but
it's also necessary to chase after subsequent designations and other

On Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 1:34 PM, Doug Yanega <dyanega at ucr.edu> wrote:

> Dear All: I and fellow ICZN Commissioner Mark Harvey have just published
> a brief note, titled as in the subject header, in the Bulletin of
> Zoological Nomenclature. The online version is available at
> *http://iczn.org/node/40405*
> I feel it is arguably the most important such solicitation in the
> history of the ICZN, as it could potentially affect one of the most
> fundamental principles of the Code; namely, that the Code and Commission
> remain neutral regarding violations of standards of taxonomic practice
> and ethics. As such, I wish to draw people's attention to it, and take
> this opportunity to emphasize several things:
> (1) For everyone reading this, YOUR participation is crucial, whether
> you are a practicing taxonomist or not, because everyone who studies
> living organisms is affected by controversies surrounding the correct
> names to be used for those organisms. This is far too important an issue
> to allow a tiny handful of people to have undue influence over the
> course of the discussion, and the future of taxonomy. The Commission is
> not likely to undertake fundamental changes in the Code unless there is
> a CLEAR MAJORITY in terms of public opinion. As such, I am hoping to
> have hundreds, if not thousands, of responses submitted in response to
> this solicitation, so we on the Commission have a truly significant
> sample size to work with. I therefore encourage everyone reading this to
> forward this message (in its entirety) to all of their colleagues.
> (2) PLEASE do not respond to this solicitation here, in this newsgroup.
> *Instructions for submitting comments can be found at
> http://iczn.org/content/instructions-comments* (and also see additional
> important details in the solicitation itself). This is NOT a call for a
> public debate - I would even prefer to receive personal e-mail requests
> for clarification, however numerous, rather than have this turn into a
> public free-for-all, because it is a very contentious subject.
> (3) PLEASE read the solicitation carefully. We tried to make it concise,
> and explicit. I wish to emphasize that the question at hand is a GENERAL
> one, regarding the *role of standards and ethics in the practice of
> taxonomy and nomenclature*. I will quote the pertinent passage, in order
> to reinforce the idea:
> "We must stress that this is a very broad issue, which manifests in many
> ways, affects many disciplines, and has occurred throughout the history
> of taxonomy. We also recognize that the most prominent and timely
> concerns relate to issues such as plagiarism, falsification of data,
> criminal activities, and practices that subvert or circumvent the
> process of peer review (which is considered an essential element of all
> scientific practice, taxonomy included). This is, emphatically, not a
> referendum on professionals versus amateurs (or other cultural
> stereotypes), nor a referendum on the merits (or lack thereof) of peer
> review. Basically, what we seek to know is whether the taxonomic
> community wants to continue dealing with these issues at their own
> discretion, or whether they want the Commission to be empowered to do so
> (or something in between); we will not do so on our own initiative."
> (4) For those of you seeking a "nutshell version" of what the heart of
> the controversy is that triggered this solicitation in the first place,
> I can offer the following: "Are there, or are there not, circumstances -
> when the opinion of the community is that a work has been produced in a
> manner incompatible with standards of taxonomic practice and ethics -
> where names or nomenclatural acts in a work should be treated /as if
> they had never been published/?". Note, however, that this is not the
> only possible approach! If you have a clear opinion on this, or
> alternatives, then please communicate your thoughts to the Commission
> for consideration.
> Sincerely,
> --
> 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.

Dr. David Campbell
Assistant Professor, Geology
Department of Natural Sciences
Box 7270
Gardner-Webb University
Boiling Springs NC 28017

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