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Re: nomenclatorial problems

Several people have responded to some of my "complaints" about
archosaurian taxonomic trends.  I appreciate the factual information and
philosophical insights included in those responses.  In fact, I don't
think I have a "quick fix" to what I see as the problems (realizing that
not everyone agrees).

Bob Myers said:

>It sounds to me like you are arguing for some non-"scientific names"
>for dinosaurs.

Actually, we already have "common" names for many of the better-known
dinosaurs, such as "duckbills," "bone-heads," etc.  For my class, I've
made up some of my own, like "hypsies," and "fanged dinosaurs."  But the
problem I've been talking about is more at the generic level.

>Who, exactly, are the "very many people" who don't care
>about the correct names, or don't want to bother to wade through
>it?  The general public, or other dinosaur researchers?

The very many people are the 3,000+ who've had my course.  It seems as if
other dinosaur researchers thrive on the nomenclatorial complexity.  It's
not that the public (read that "my students") don't care about the
correct names, but I have not been able to convince them that these
convoluted histories are important.  If I didn't have to mention
_Brontosaurus_ and _Coelophysis_ (or _Rioarribasaurus_), it would be of
less consequence.  But because those names are entrenched in the
literature or in our culture, they do come up.  Another problem is that
about half of my students have had no foreign language, hence no skills
for learning the meaning of "non-sensical" syllables, or translating; it
doesn't seem to help to explain the origin of the words--it's still Greek
to them!  In that context, one name for each animal is enough (too much
for many of them!), so when two or three are rattled off, like I said,
their eyes just start to glaze over, and we've (yes, I mean WE) lost

I accept the explanations of the history of the genera in question, as
summarized by Dinogeorge and Stan Friesen, and others.  I realize that
maybe the Ghost Ranch material is not the same thing as the "real"
_Coelophysis_, but introduction of _Rioarribasaurus_ has indeed "renamed"
much of the material formerly called _Coelophysis_.

>Don't just throw up your hands and say that all this "renaming" proves
>your point;

The point I was referring to here is that a really rather concise
explanation by Dinogeorge is so convoluted as to rival the federal tax
code in its complexity.  It takes an expert to figure it out, and even
the experts have had trouble keeping things straight.  How do you feel
about the federal tax code?  Well, I think that's the impression we're
making with dinosaur taxonomy.

>tell us what would be a better way of sorting out all the different
>names, and be *specific* (so to speak :-)) about how the problems
>should be solved.

I wonder if there are standards for deciding where to draw the line
between genera among ceratosaurs (or coelophysids, more specifically--so
to speak ;-)), hadrosaurines, and lagosuchids, as "random" examples?
Does having a low nasal crest require that you be in a different genus;
or does being more heavily boned, etc.?  I'm not surprised that the
animals from different fossil sites are different in some way (I would be
surprised if they were identical).  But I wonder if there is really a
compelling case for establishing a new genus for just those fossils that
everyone is most familiar with, leaving the well-known generic name for
the obscure specimens. What are the standards for establishing new
genera, as opposed to just new species?  What procedures should be
followed when type material and a name already exist, as opposed to
finding something altogether new?

So there's some specific recommendations.  (Thought you had me, didn't
you!)  If we don't have such standards for dinosaur taxonomy, then
perhaps we should establish them.  Recent history demonstrates the need.
What purpose should the erection of a new genus satisfy?  Is it the best
way to solve the need for more precision and better communication?  If
such questions were paramount in everyone's mind when the taxonomic work
in question was carried out, maybe people could have foreseen that
designating a new genus for the Ghost Ranch coelophysid material would
have caused a counter-productive furor.  That being the case, what
alternative course of action would have satisfied the need for scientific
precision and communication, while simultaneously respecting the
established understandings?

Perhaps we need a game plan.  After all, 50 years from now things will be
even more complicated than they are now.  Maybe we should start planning
for that.

Norman R. King                                       tel:  (812) 464-1794
Department of Geosciences                            fax:  (812) 464-1960
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712                      e-mail:  nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu