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Proposed changes to ICZN

Now my day is complete! I've just been told to go to hell by none other than
Archimedes Plutonium himself on sci.paleo!


The following are excerpts from the list of proposed changes to
the International Code of Zoological Nomencature for the Fourth
Edition, 1997.

<<Explanatory notes

   The current (Third) edition of the Code was published in
February 1985. It was inevitable that some constructive
suggestions made before that time could not be incorporated, and
many others were prompted by the appearance of the new edition.
In 1988 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature
set up an Editorial Committee to work towards an eventual Fourth
Edition and published an invitation to zoologists to submit
further recommendations. Many have been received, and the
Commission is grateful to all those who have assisted it. The
Commission held open meetings in 1988 (Canberra), 1990 (Maryland)
and 1991 (Amsterdam) for preliminary discussion of proposed
improvements to the Code, many of them intended to meet changing
needs and rapidly evolving communication techniques.
   The Editorial Committee met in Hamburg in October 1993 and
reviewed each Article of the existing Code in the light of the
above discussions and all the suggestions which had been made.
The Committee now offers to all zoologists and other users of
scientific names, and to the full Commission itself, a Discussion
Draft of the Fourth Edition. Under Article 16 of its Constitution
the Commission will take into full consideration all comments
made on the Draft within one year of its original distribution
(that is, by the end of May 1996). It is hoped that it will be
possible to publish the new Edition, with the approval of the
International Union of Biological Sciences, in 1996 and that its
provisions will take formal effect (superseding the current Third
Edition) on 1 January 1997. To achieve this timetable, and more
importantly to ensure that the Code will meet the needs of its
users, zoologists and others are now invited to submit comments
on the Discussion Draft.

   The Editorial Committee has been guided by the principle that
scientific names are labels for taxa and provide the only
universal means of accessing zoological information. Stability in
their application and form, consistent with taxonomy, is
therefore of paramount importance irrespective of any priority or
linguistic consideration. This aim to maintain stability must
take precedence over the tools that the Code uses to promote it.
Thus, while priority remains the basis for determining validity,
and linguistics the basis for the formation of names, neither is
an end in itself. Under the changing circumstances of science
these and other means of promoting stability must be reviewed for
each new Edition. This has been done and the major changes
proposed reflect that view. Like all zoologists, members of the
Editorial Committee recognize that many names in current use are
in breach of the existing Code and that no scientific purpose
would be served by continuing to make them vulnerable to change
for purely formal reasons. In the proposals for the Fourth
Edition every effort has been made to ensure that names in
present use will remain valid when the new Code comes into
effect, or that they can be easily validated.>>


   Although priority is the main criterion in determining the
validity of competing names the Draft makes provisions enabling
zoologists to depart from it in some situations, without the
recourse to the Commission required by the present Code.
   (a) Conservation of junior synonyms. When a senior synonym has
not been used as valid in the previous fifty years and a junior
name has been universally and widely used in this period, then
the junior name is to be given precedence [Art. 23j].
   (b) Conservation of subsequent spellings. Providing the same
criteria as mentioned for junior synonyms are met, a subsequent
spelling of a name which is different from that first published
is to be accepted as the correct original spelling [Art. 33d].
   (c) Usage of family-group names contrary to priority. If two
family-group names are in general current use such that the taxon
denoted by the senior name (e.g. a subfamily) is included within
that (e.g. a family) denoted by the junior name, such usage is to
continue even though it is contrary to priority [Art. 35e].>>


   Zoologists have spent much time debating matters which are
purely of grammar or spelling, and many destabilizing name
changes have been caused as a result. Very few modern zoologists
are at ease with Latin, although this was the language of
international communication to Linnaeus and his successors (who,
even so, were not always rigorous in their grammatical
practices). Even fewer have any knowledge of classical Greek. The
Discussion Draft attempts (i) to respect the names of the past
but to preserve them in the forms in which they have been used in
modern times, (ii) to avoid name changes, i.e. obstacles to
information retrieval, made for non-taxonomic reasons, and (iii)
not to regulate or "correct" the spelling of new names. The new
provisions will no doubt be controversial, but the Editorial
Committee hopes that criticism of them will be for zoological or
practical reasons and not simply on linguistic or historical
grounds. The following changes are proposed.
   (a) Gender of generic names. It is proposed that after 1996
generic names should be treated as words having no gender and
therefore not affecting the spelling of adjectival specific
epithets (e.g. albus, -a, -um) combined with them [Art. 30].
Consequent on this, the Editorial Committee offers two
alternatives [see Arts. 31b, 32c and 48] for discussion, as
   Either: (i) After 1996 the original ending of such an epithet
is to be used in all combinations, whether or not the combination
is new and whether or not a change in an existing binomen
   Or: (ii) the ending of such an epithet is to remain as it is
in an existing combination (so a binomen already in use for a
species remains unchanged), but in new combinations first
published after 1996 the original ending of the epithet is to be
   (b) Acceptance of incorrect spellings.
   (i) The original spelling of an adjectival species-group
epithet first published after 1996 should be accepted as correct,
even if its gender ending is grammatically improper in the
original combination [Art. 31b(iii)].
   (ii) Certain endings of species-group epithets that are formed
from personal names are to be treated as identical: thus
spellings such as smithi and smithii are permissible variants
[Art. 31b(v)].
   (iii) If an incorrect spelling of a name has been generally
accepted that spelling is not to be changed [Arts. 29d, 33d].
   (iv) A new family-group name may be formed by adding the
appropriate ending (e.g. -IDAE, -INAE) to the entire name of the
type genus, rather than only to its stem [Art. 29a, c]. This may
be necessary to avoid the new family-group name being a junior
homonym of one based on another generic name which has the same
stem. The spelling of a new family-group name should not be
emended by reason of having a grammatically incorrect stem [Art.
29c]. If a disused family-group name is a senior homonym of one
in use its stem may be emended so as to conserve the junior name
[Art. 55c].>>


<<The Preface to the current (1985) edition points out (p. xii):
"No Code is perfect. None will please everyone. Indeed, it is
unlikely that any Code would be completely satisfactory to any
individual." Some of the innovations proposed for the Fourth
Edition will be controversial, but the Editorial Committee
believes that the Discussion Draft provides a significant advance
for the future while respecting and preserving the names of the
   We urge zoologists to test the changes proposed by the
Editorial Committee constructively and without prejudice, with
the needs of the wider biological community in mind, and with
awareness of the changed circumstances of taxonomists who will
comment on the proposals and those who will vote on their
adoption, who are mostly specialists located in long-established
centres, to review proposals sympathetically even though many
will consider them unnecessary in their own situations. The most
important of these changes, if adopted, will widen the medium of
publication beyond print media into an electronic age, will
reduce dependence upon expensive and comprehensive library
holdings and ancient works for nomenclatural searches, and will
make familiarity with classical Latin and Greek grammar
    We look forward to receiving suggestions that will improve
the proposal, and for support that we are confident will result
in the Commission and the International Union of Biological
Sciences adopting on behalf of zoologists and users of scientific
names a Fourth Edition that will more effectively meet the needs
of the 21st century than could its predecessor.>>

Many of the proposed changes to the Code are worthy improvements
and should be implemented, but among the above proposals are some
that are in my opinion unconscionable. The amount of Latin needed
to form a taxonomic name correctly is minimal and is available in
standard references on the subject. Just because an incorrectly
formed name has become generally accepted does not strike me as
sufficient reason to institutionalize the error. Incorrectly
formed names should not be published in the first place, but if
published they should be corrected. This is a very simple
concept, it seems to me.

If the proposal to eliminate gender from generic names is
accepted, as it most likely will be, then really anything goes.
In that event, I guarantee that, should the opportunities arise,
the first three dinosaur species names I will create will be _Joe
dinosaur_, _Betty brontosaurus_, and _Mister threetoes_.