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

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sat May 14 20:09:29 CDT 2016

Hi Jason,
I have no problem with a recommendation in the Code to the effect of "don't describe a new species from a photo only, unless the photo is diagnostically informative and no specimen is available to be preserved". The Code cannot prevent taxonomists from making bad judgement calls, either accidentally or deliberately ("vandals"). A ban on photo only descriptions would prevent good taxonomy, such as Marleyimyia xylocopae, and it would not prevent bad taxonomy in other ways (poor type specimen, etc.) I agree with you that we need as many sources of data tied to the type *as possible*, but if you only have a photo, then more data is not possible, but that shouldn't prevent us from making good use of the available data (i.e. the photo). You go with the data that you have. If you only have a photo, you go with that. If you only have a compression fossil, you go with that. If you have a specimen, then you use it. There needs to be ways of efficiently coping with problems resulting from lack of data. Such problems can result from a non-diagnostic type specimen. I alluded to an example previously (Sagola). What do you think is the best approach? (1) list names of uncertain identity as nomina dubia and ignore them, or (2) associate them with species on the basis of inconclusive evidence (i.e. the Sagola example). This is a real dilemma which I'd be interested in hearing the opinions of taxonomists.

On Sun, 15/5/16, JF Mate <aphodiinaemate at gmail.com> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] I'm furious over article: On typeless species and the perils of fast taxonomy
 To: "Taxacom" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Received: Sunday, 15 May, 2016, 12:31 PM
 Just to clarify. In my post 4 days
 ago I wrote to Stephen "Not a ban,
 more like an overt show of displeasure." In other words, not
 the code or banning (Stephen´s bugbear) but at least a
 ackonowledgement that this is pushing it. Notwithstanding
 the example
 of compression fossils (which I would argue is part and
 parcel of
 paleontology unlike photos in entomology) I think that a
 recommendation to the effect that photographs alone are far
 desirable would not go amiss. This has nothing to do with me
 also with molecular markers, as I have also a rather big
 bone with
 On good vs bad taxonomy:
 Cristian " chivalry among scholars and making sure no
 vandals are allowed."
 Stephen "so we just have to promote good taxonomy,
 regardless of
 method, and hope that nobody would be silly enough to
 describe from
 photo only if they did have a good diagnostic specimen at
 hand to be
 the type."
 How do you promote/allow good taxonomists vs bad I ask? We
 can´t even
 ask obviously bad herpetologists to behave, or dodgy
 "journals" to not
 circumvent the Code´s unavoidable loopholes and publish
 which are even worse than just pictures. I thought one way
 simply be to say "I can´t ban it but I wouldn´t just
 publish based on
 a picture" but that is also out in the name of a warped
 sense of
 freedom so I guess we will just have to trust that the good
 outnumber the bad and are willing to clean up mistakes (and
 are not
 interested in phylogenetics).
 In regards to "Why should a preserved specimen be required
 in all
 cases, when (1) the specimen may be diagnostically poor or
 useless; and (2) in cases, say, where there is no specimen
 but only a
 photo, the photo may be diagnostically sufficient for a
 description? "
 How do you know this a priori? Type material may now
 useless because we have some much stuff accessible to
 compare, vs a
 few decades ago. What would have been a distinct species
 then may be
 part of a cryptic group now or maybe it was a female as you
 say (I
 have dealt with a lot of those so I am familiar with the
 This however is no evidence against physical types, rather
 opposite, that we need more sources of data tied to the
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