[Taxacom] Why stability?

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Thu Apr 30 17:43:55 CDT 2015

Hi Stephen,

> I think your confusion may stem from not keeping in mind the dialectic
> in which I made my comments. I was responding to others who had suggested
> that authors should always cite the publication used for the
identification of any
> species that they mention. 

Nope, no confusion at all.  That's exactly the context of my comments as

> Basically, their motivation is probably merely to
> increase citation rates in taxonomy. 

Ah!  This seems to be where you are confused.  This thread has nothing to do
with citation rates, and everything to do with being more precise about
referencing taxon concepts (as opposed to referencing taxon names with
ambiguous concept implications).

> My comment was intended to point out
> that, in a great many cases, identifications are not made using any
> publication, even identifications down to the species level. 

Yes, and my earlier post to you on this pointed out that even when experts
don't need a specific publication in order to make a species identification,
they should certainly be aware of the alternative taxon concepts that exist
for a name, and should do the rest of us a great service by explicitly
citing the publication that best represents the taxon concept to which the
expert is making the identification. Otherwise, we're left guessing which of
possibly multiple alternative taxon concepts the person doing the
identification had in mind when ascribing the identification.

> Many names do not
> have any well defined "taxonomic concepts" associated with them, but may
> nevertheless be names for distinctive species which are easily identified
> direct comparison of specimens (given a bit of experience with the group).

If they are "easily identified", then they are so because there are clear
definitions for the concept.  It would be very easy to simply cite one of
these to help assert which circumscription of a particular name is implied.

> For
> something of an example, I'm sure you can recognise a giraffe if you see
> but you probably cannot point to any well defined "taxonomic concept" (or,
> you can, you didn't rely on it to make  the identification). 

If I ever were to make an assertion about the identification of a Giraffe in
my capacity as a taxonomist, I would be doing everyone else a favor by
citing it as something like "Giraffa Camelopardalis (Linnaeus, 1758) sensu
Wislon and Reeder 2005".

> In many cases,
> identifications may be based on a very complex set of things, including
> publications and specimens examined, which would not be easy or even
> possible to spell out as "sensu ..." or "sec ..." 

Absolutely!  But the topic of this thread isn't about the basis of an
identification per se, but an explicit reference to an implied taxon concept
circumscription (rather than just a conceptually ambiguous Linnean name all
by itself).  In cases where a person used a particular publication to make
an identification (I suspect the vast majority of cases), then such
publication should be the one to which to anchor the concept of the name to
(this is I think what Mary was on about -- and she is absolutely spot-on
right about this!) As I already said, in cases where no such book is used, a
responsible taxonomists should do us all the courtesy of reducing ambiguity
by pointing to one (ideally published) usage of a name to help us pin down
the specific taxon concept that is being invoked.

> Sometimes, for example, one does
> use a publication to identify a specimen, but the key may give a different
> to the description, and both may give a different result to comparing a
> specimen with the illustrations in the publication. Identification is more
of a
> "wholistic" thing, taking into account all available evidence. Also, your
idea of
> citing something like "sensu Person who identified it for me" wouldn't
count for
> citation metrics, so really isn't what this dialectic was originally

Agreed!  But as I said, we're not talking about how people make
identifications, we're talking about more precisely representing taxon names
as implied taxon concepts, whenever possible.  Often there is an overlap in
sources used to make an identification and the intended taxon concept, but
sometimes not (as you have correctly noted).  When there is an overlap, then
the task is easy.  When there is not an overlap, the task is (or at least
should be)... easy!


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