The Dark Side of Taxonomy, part III: "Resistance is Futile!!"


Ladies & people,

It is obvious that understanding the dark world of name chan-
ges is a many-headed monster to conquer for taxonomists. The
latest contributions to the debate (Herman, Hermine, Jim
Waddick) merit some comments:

Herman (25 December): I am sorry that your English didn't
allow you to understand the finer details of my contribution
but since we know each other personally, I will tell you more
in Dutch when we meet again. A few points though that may be
of interest to others as well: I agree that an ongoing debate
between "guttatum" and "venosum" would seem to be a sign of
improper work and it MAY even be so! However, one of the main
problems taxonmists have with the nomenclature rules of the
Botanical Code is that the rules are NOT always unambiguous. I
consider it the main flaw of a code that purports to support
stability in nomenclature. You wouldn't believe the endless
debates over the interpretation of certain rules in the Code.
It is deeply regrettable that this is still happening. Recent-
ly I asked an opinion on the discussion list TAXACOM about a
Latin diagnosis of a newly described Amorphophallus species
from China. The diagnosis consisted of ca. 20% Latin words,
50% hybrid words (Latin/English) and the rest English. The
code requires "A LATIN diagnosis", so I assumed that this name
was therefore invalidly published because the diagnosis was a
mixture of two languages and one speech-inability. To my utter
surprise, I found that some taxonomists (and some with BIG
names!) "interpreted" the Code rule so as to ALLOW for percen-
tages of other languages than Latin. Now HOW am I to know this
as a reader and user of the Code?? The result is that I think
the name is invalidly published but at the same time it is
accepted in Index Kewensis, an authoritative listing of new
species names!!!! THAT is what drives people crazy. I am sorry
I have to apologise for my colleagues about this but there it
is. The outcome of the TAXACOM debate is like 50% for, and 50%
against! WHAT a great help it is to have that Botanical Code!!

Other questions by Herman:

- a proposed name change as part of new scientific enquiry is
published in a scientific journal. There's no High Court that
decides whether a scientist is right or wrong. Philosophically
there is often no such thing as "right" or "wrong" in scienti-
fic debate. There is "bad" and "good" hypotheses and often a
majority decides what is "bad" or "good". 

- there ARE however international nomeclature committees that
deal with name change proposals that are AGAINST the rules of
the Code but seem important as tools in stabilisation. Suppose
that everybody uses Sauromatum venosum and I found that it
ought to be S. guttatum and I feel that the whole world would
suffer from that proposal, I might ask this committee to
decide to conserve S. venosum AGAINST the rules of the Code.
So there is a kind of judge in all this. The decision of that
committee will be ratified by an international congress every
five years, so there IS some democracy (taxocracy?) in our
circles. 

- for an international committee to accept a proposal, one
needs a 2/3rd majority I recall.

Hermine (27 December): well, I guess you have been bitten more
severely by a nasty taxonomy bug. I don't know if I can ever
convince you of the better parts of our trade but I guess I
have tried my level best. Some people just never............

As to your Rose complaint: there is an organisation called
International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS, part of
UNESCO!) that has a Horticultural Registration Commission.
This commission appoints International Registration Authori-
ties (IRAs) that register all new cultivars of a certain crop
(often a genus) all over the world. In case of roses that is
the AMERICAN (where YOU live) Rose Society. I am surprised
that you never heard of that. Maybe you SHOULD ask sometimes
to get educated. It helps! In 1993 a checklist of 41.000 (!!)
cultivar names in Camellia was published (Savige, 1993) by the
International Camellia Society! Again, a question might have
helped you and saved you from irritation. There are many, many
more such lists and societies. They are all listed in the
latest edition of the International Code of Nomenclature for
Cultivated Plants.

To Jim waddick (28 December): thanks Jim for your supporting
mail. It puts in other words what I've been trying to say. I
hope it made a few extra "converts". 

Cheers to you all,
Wilbert
 


  

  


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