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

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Wed Jan 8 16:29:53 CST 2014

Reiterating what I have already said, the ICZN is trying, cunningly, to pander to the aggressive lobbying by a few institutional taxonomists to enforce a code of "ethics" (possibly a very biased notion of "ethics" taylored to the agenda of those few institutional taxonomists), while at the same time not directly interfering in such matters. Their cunning solution is to facilitate the enforcement of the "ethics" by the scientific community, by way of new Code provisions, so that the ICZN itself makes no ethical judgements directly (as it has no mandate to do so), but rather the scientific community makes the judgements, which the Code ratifies.

From: Doug Yanega <dyanega at ucr.edu>
To: iczn-list at afriherp.org; "taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> 
Sent: Thursday, 9 January 2014 11:12 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] [iczn-list] Call for Comments: Taxonomic Practice and the Code

On 1/8/14 11:32 AM, Kim van der Linde wrote:
> I am sorry, I should have clarified that I purposefully ignored your 
> request. I think that a public discussion of such an explosive issue 
> is needed.
Given the tendency of public discussions to generate and propagate 
misinformation and misinterpretation, I disagree, and I try to limit my 
contributions to counteract these negative effects.
>> The solicitation is not phrased as a yes or no question; please read 
>> the final paragraph carefully. If I had to summarize the solicitation 
>> into a single question, it would be this:
>> "Given that we are about to write a new Code, what, if anything, 
>> should this new Code say regarding ethics?"
>> Does that make things clearer for people?
> Okay, let me rephrase my response: NOTHING.
> And let me explain why. When the commission gets to police whether 
> things are done ethically or not, and whether something is good 
> science or not. 
Where in the question do you see the implication that we are 
*advocating* that the Commission should police anything? We are *asking* 
if the community WANTS us to police anything or enforce anything. If the 
consensus is no to both questions, then that gives us important 
information that we cannot get from limited forums like these listservs, 
which are dominated by a few highly vocal individuals. Speaking strictly 
for myself as a Commissioner, I'm not interested in policing anything, 
but if the Commission were to receive a petition saying "Here is a list 
of perfectly Code-compliant names that we feel should be declared 
unavailable because of ethical considerations", I would rather that the 
Code included an explicit mechanism by which we could screen and approve 
such a petition even though the Code had not been violated - and thereby 
enforce the community's will. Controversies, by definition, cause 
instability in usage of names.
> The questions in the article explicitly states: "including a failure 
> to adhere to proper standards of scientific conduct" This is opening a 
> can of worms orf each persons own favorite taxon. Why, because in 
> order to do this, we first have to define what the "proper standard 
> for scientific conduct" are. They are NOT defined in the article, and 
> hence we have to assume that after the comments are in, and the 
> commission decides that it has a mandate, they go back in chambers and 
> craft a set of "proper standards for scientific conduct". What is 
> going to be considered improper, and what will be considered proper? 
(1) Actually, the Code ALREADY includes a list of behaviors that are 
considered unethical, and no one has ever objected to this list being 
present in the Code, over all the decades it has been there. Please read 
Appendix A, if you never have before. Now, imagine that list as a 
*starting point for discussion* - should we expand the list, and change 
it so that violations of the items in the list are grounds for making 
names/works unavailable? If you wish to submit comments, then that 
Appendix is a good place to look for one of the many possible approaches 
we could take. If you don't like that idea, then go ahead and submit 
suggestions for whatever you see as a better alternative.
(2) Deciding what is or is not improper is not the Commission's business 
now, and no one is suggesting that it should become our business. It is 
the community's business; what we want is for you to TELL US what you 
consider improper, and what - if anything - the Commission should do 
about it. That's what the solicitation is for.
(3) Definitions of improper ethical conduct are NOT taxon-specific. I 
cannot imagine how they ever could be. You're talking about cliques, and 
no one is suggesting any such thing, and no one with any sense would 
ever support such a thing. In fact, several of the proposals made thus 
far in the debate rely upon mechanisms that would ABOLISH cliques, such 
as open public review and voting.
> The CODE's power relies on a voluntary adherence by taxonomists at 
> large to the rules. The worst thing that could happen is that if a 
> sizable minority gets fed up with ethics rulings and decides to go 
> rogue as a group, publishing their own version of the CODE. That would 
> be a mess.
You believe that a sizable minority of taxonomists are unethical?? That 
is an amazing claim, frankly, and goes completely contrary to what 
nearly everyone else seems to be saying - namely, that unethical 
taxonomists are such an incredibly tiny minority that we should just 
ignore them. If 99.9% of the community acts in an ethical fashion, then 
having community-approved rules regarding ethics is not going to 
interfere with their activities, is it? Your comments suggest that you 
are afraid that people with a devious agenda will hijack things and 
define ethics in a manner that is destructive to the community - and I 
will counterargue that this is impossible if the entire community 
cooperates in developing the rules. If you ARE afraid of this, then this 
solicitation is your opportunity to make it clear where YOU would like 
the lines drawn.
> I personally would like to see a discussion about how the CODE and the 
> commission can become more relevant for the biology community at 
> large, instead of adding an additional explosive aspect to its tasks.
Actually, that is precisely the argument used by those who oppose the 
recognition of names published unethically - that as long as we tolerate 
it, the biological community at large sees taxonomy as a backwater full 
of unethical egomaniacs. We can't be relevant until we have our house in 


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)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82 

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