[Taxacom] I'm furious over article: On typeless species and the perils of fast taxonomy
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?!
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.
<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
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
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
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
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
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
characters were drawn or reproduced with mistakes (if
not intentional fake). Why should we suspect
photographs by Marshall and Evenhuis are a fake, while
taking all works produced by all Brazilian
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?
University of the
<taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> ha escrit:
<neale at bishopmuseum.org>,
<samarsha at uoguelph.ca>
De: Stephen Thorpe
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
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.
Taxacom Mailing List
Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
The Taxacom Archive back to 1992 may be
Intellectual Exuberance for 29 years
More information about the Taxacom