[Taxacom] I'm furious over article: On typeless species and the perils of fast taxonomy

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Tue May 10 17:30:07 CDT 2016

Cris said: "I also think there is a troubling political side to this case. All 14 authors are from the same mega-diverse country"

My reply: Yes, I think you are correct that there is a troubling political side to this case, but nothing to do with Brazil. In BZN 73(1)(2016), there is another hard-hitting critique of the controversial new fly description, this time by three Swiss (Switzerland not being particularly "mega-dicerse"!), who appear to have a similar agenda, though they conduct their criticisms somewhat more collegially. Reading between the lines, I detect two possible underlying concerns which may be motivating the reaction against holotypes designated via photos:

(1) This might endanger continued funding to museums which look after type specimens; and

(2) This might encourage amateurs to describe new taxa.

Well, I'm not sure what I think about (1). I don't think that it is a big deal. Instead of insisting upon a global ban of description from photos, one might better lobby to the effect that description by specimen is better, which I don't think anyone denies! Also, I very much doubt that funding responds in such a simple way to single factors influencing how taxonomy is carried out in practice.

As for (2), it COULD BE a good thing! It all depends on whether or not the taxonomy is done adequately. It is way too simple to think that all and only professional taxonomists can do taxonomy adequately. I suspect that it really has more to do with control. Traditional professional taxonomists just can't handle the thought of losing control over who can do taxonomy, and who can have access to types, etc.

The most important thing is that arguments for or against are based on good reasons, not misinterpretations/manipulations, etc. Even the BZN article misrepresents the disadvantages of photos. Their same argument could be just as easily applied to argue against the description of new taxa from fossils or non-perfect specimens in some way. A determined faker, as I already pointed out, is by no means limited to photographic manipulation!

And there is also the issue of peer review: again I ask how 14 authors, at least 2 reviewers and an editorial team for a supposedly good journal all managed to let such basic errors slip through?!

Cheers, Stephen

On Tue, 10/5/16, Cristian Ruiz Altaba <cruizaltaba at dgcc.caib.es> wrote:

 Subject: Re: Re: [Taxacom] I'm furious over article: On typeless species and the perils of fast taxonomy
 To: "Stephen Thorpe" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 Received: Tuesday, 10 May, 2016, 6:29 PM
 Hi Stephen,Well, I for one am
 prepared to say publicly that photographs are evidence. So
 we are two already. A reply should be written.
 The point on faking evidence is not mine. It is in
 Santos et al, when they argue that an image can be
 manipulated (and not a holotype, alas). I should add that
 too many taxonomists naïvely think that photographs are
 superior to drawings. It depends on intention, of course.
 However, at least in malacology, it seems most reviewers
 prefer a fuzzy photograph over a crisp drawing --obviously
 ignoring the art of Photoshop. And what is taxonomy about,
 altogether. (A nice path is in the works of Lou Grande, who
 depicts complex fossils with good photographs side-by-side
 with accurate drawings of the same specimen).
 I also think there is a troubling political side to
 this case. All 14 authors are from the same mega-diverse
 country. They want to stress the need for support towards
 museums. Yet, they got a red herring instead. It is
 worrisome that they do not accept the possibility of
 expanding their taxonomic tools, even when it is perfectly
 clear that the pace of (old-fashioned) description is orders
 of magnitude below the (current) estimated rate of
 extinction. This is a globally relevant issue.
 All the
 -----Stephen Thorpe
 <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz> ha escrit: -----
 Per a: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>,
 Cristian Ruiz Altaba <cruizaltaba at dgcc.caib.es>
 De: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 Data: 10/05/2016 12:43AM
 a/c: <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Assumpte: Re: [Taxacom] I'm furious over
 article: On typeless species and the perils of fast
 Hi Cris,
 Judging from the off-list replies,
 this issue would seem to be a "sensitive" one,
 with all who replied in full agreement with me, yet not
 prepared to say so publicly. So far, it seems like only
 dipterists have taken notice, but the taxonomic issue are,
 of course, quite general. It is odd that nobody is forcing
 anyone to describe new species from photos, yet Santos et
 al. seem to want to impose a ban on anyone doing it! There
 are certain parallels with homophobia! As for the photo
 faking argument, I think you may have slightly misunderstood
 their point? Yes, drawings and verbal descriptions can also
 be faked, possibly even easier than faking photos, but their
 point was that a preserved type specimen is there to be
 checked against descriptions and illustrations, which cannot
 be done if all that you have are photos. This is true, but
 in practice a determined faker would have many options
 regardless. They could deliberately damage or even destroy
 the holotype, and the availability of the new name would be
 unaffected, with only the description and illustrations left
 to use for ID. They could refuse access to the holotype if
 they also had control of the type repository, or they could
 simply stay quiet and hope that nobody bothered to check.
 So, while the lack of a checkable specimen is one reason
 against description from photo only, it needs to be weighed
 against reasons for. Also, a specimen and even species is
 only as good as the associated data, and collecting data is
 very easy to fake, with little or no way to confirm. So the
 possibility of faking photos doesn't really introduce
 anything new.
 On Mon, 9/5/16, Cristian Ruiz Altaba
 <cruizaltaba at dgcc.caib.es> wrote:
  Subject: Re: [Taxacom] I'm furious
 over article: On typeless species and the perils of fast
  To: "Stephen Thorpe"
 <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
  Received: Monday, 9 May, 2016, 6:46 PM
 Stephen,The paper is indeed
  dangerous. I have read it and feel just the way you do.
  Indeed, the main issue is that the authors
 believe they know
  very well the Code... when in fact they obviously
  Santos et al. want to make a point in support of
  "old-but-not-outdated taxonomy".
 However, they
  also want to dress this quarrel with a legal varnish.
  Particularly infuriating is their invocation of
  Fontcuberta's photographic work. He has
 played a lot
  with the illusion of truth in photography. He even has
  book portraying himself as a follower of
 Osama Bin
  Laden, his whole biography with numerous
  almost all of which turn
 out to be false. The only real one
  portrays what seems a joke: a bottle of something
  Mecca-Cola. His point is simple yet
 worthwhile --it
  doesn't matter what the support might be, what counts
  the genuine sincerity in the message.
 This we know as the
  Golde Rule, which holds all of science together. Surely
  all could point at one paper at least
 where taxonomic
  characters were drawn or reproduced with mistakes (if
  not intentional fake). Why should we suspect
 that the
  photographs by Marshall and Evenhuis are a fake, while
  taking all works produced by all Brazilian
  as fault-proof?
  So what is the point in
 Santos et al? Hard to tell. At
  any rate, they end up advocating for field
 work. Yet, that
  is exactly how you are most likely to photograph
  I do think that this paper
 deserves an answer. May I
  propose a joint reply by several members of this list?
  All the
  R. Altaba
 University of the
  Balearic Islands
  <taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> ha escrit:
  Per a:
 <neale at bishopmuseum.org>,
  <samarsha at uoguelph.ca>
  De: Stephen Thorpe 
  Enviat per:
  Data: 09/05/2016 12:29AM
  a/c: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
  Assumpte: [Taxacom] I'm furious over
  article: On typeless species and the perils
 of fast
  Hi all,
  I'm furious
  over this new article:
  They say: However, according to Article
 16.4 of the ICZN
  (1999), only holotypes of extant taxa should be housed in
  public scientific collection.
 Marleyimyia xycolopae is
  obviously an extant species. Accordingly, its type
  should be deposited in a
 scientific collection ... In short,
  Marshall and Evenhuis published a nomen nudum because
  discovery is backed only by a
 photograph and not by a type
  Art. 16.4 actually says: 
  16.4.2. where the holotype or syntypes are
  extant specimens, by a statement of intent
 that they will be
  (or are) deposited in a collection and a statement
  indicating the name and location of that
 NOT extant SPECIES!!!
  The argument offered against
 availability of the name Marleyimyia xycolopae is
  clearly based on a gross misinterpretation of the Code,
  is makes the whole article by Santos
 et al. utterly
  pointless! I am extremely alarmed that nobody out of 14
  authors, at least two reviewers and an
 editorial team from a
  supposedly reputable journal could not catch this
  fundamental error before it went to print.
 Peer review just
  doesn't work, it would seem.
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  in 2016.

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