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Re: Brontosaursus



"macops@aol" wrote:
>I disagree, very strongly. The reason for the Rule of Priority
>is not only to reward the discoverer of a species, but also to
>prevent confusion. The fear was that multiple names applied to
>the same species would cause confusion.  The reason to use Apatosaurus rather
>than Brontosaurus isn't the rule of priority
>of the Code. The reason to use Apatosaurus is that the two names
>apply two different things. While Brontosaurus was considered to
>be a valid species, it was the name to use. Now we know that
>Brontosaurus was the name applied to one specimen; Apatasaurus
>was the name applied to another. The two names were applied to
>two different genuses. "Brontosaurus" was found to be a chimera,
>constructed from the pieces of other species. Apatosaurus remains
>valid. To apply the name "Brontosaurus" to Apatosaurus does not
>retain the "species", it discards the original "Brontosaurus,"
>and renames the Apatosaurus. It's like discovering Santa Claus
>isn't real, and applying the name to James Brown, because they
>sort of look alike...

>If it were not for the fact that "Brontosaurus" was more
>publicized than Apatosaurus, we would not even be discussing
>this. "Brontosaurus" has no scientific validity, but it had
>a darned good PR campaign.

But, things like that do matter.  Bakker agrees Apatosaurus is
technically correct, but there are thousands of books out there (and,
maybe a few un-relabelled museum displays) that still use the
term "Brontosaurus".  If millions of people (quite literally)
know it by the name Brontosaurus, who should change?

Absent a very good reason, he argues it is the scientists.
One distinction about dinos that don't apply otherwise is that
the scientific name is also the popular one (except for this
one case).  Since the same person discovered both specimens
at about the same time, Bakker argues, being extra pedantic
about the name serves no useful purpose.  Those who know both
names are not confused; the ones that only know one name are
being needlessly confused.

See "Dinosaur Heresies" for the whole of his argument, which
I have tried to represent from memory.

Thus, Bakker claims that Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus are two
instances of the same species discovered almost the same time.
There was a mistake in thinking them two different things,
but we've fixed that now.  The only question is which name ought
to be adopted and since one person discovered both anyway,
there isn't an issue of priority to begin with.  We can be
pedantic/lazy/ignore the "rubes" who give money to dinos or
we can recognize a special case and take their interests into
account without sacrificing anything essential, scientifically.

If your standard is minimum fuss for the most humans (which
is how definitions of nonscientific words are settled over time),
then common usage dictates the answer:  Brontosaurus.

I can think of nothing _more_ confusing than the present case,
where I can still pick up different books freshly published that use
Brontosaurus and Apatasaurus.  Is it really worth it to spend
the next 50 years having to teach every school child about this
issue, or can the scientists rise above pedantry in this one
special case?


Larry W. Loen (lwloen@rchland.vnet.ibm.com)
Department 52P
IBM   Rochester, Minnesota
         (507)253-3535
t/l      553-3535