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Re: nomenclatorial problems

> Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 08:38:32 +0930
> From: "King, Norm" <nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu>
> To: dinosaur@lepomis.psych.upenn.edu
> Subject: Re: nomenclatorial problems
> 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.

But what I'm saying is that this sort of confusion and change is
necessary for scientific names, where precision is of the highest
importance.  Name stability of specimens must come second.

It seems to me you want to have it both ways.  I understand your
frustration, but sometimes some of the material must be renamed.

> 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

Hmmm... maybe the histories aren't important to what you're
teaching.  Can you get away with mentioning other names as being
junior synonyms, and not worry too much about why which name is which?
I wouldn't think the concept of synonyms would be all that hard to teach.

> 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
> them.

Again, it sounds like you're arguing for some form of non-scientific

> 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.

But that's because it *is* that complicated, and it's not just a naming
issue.  The taxonomy itself is complicated.  I don't see how the
nomenclatural problem can be simplified until we know more about the
taxonomic problem.

> 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?

I'm sorry, but I find the current system entirely workable.  It is
very much in the vein of *how science works*.  I don't think science
works by setting up artificial standards and just following them
blindly, and I don't see where you get all the standards to begin
with.  It seems like all the arguments would switch to those standards
at that point, anyway, and there would be just as much confusion as to
who's standards you're going to use.  You have to establish those
procedures *somehow*.

The scientific process is about finding evidence and arguing your
position.  If you make enough convincing arguments, and your arguments
withstand all attempts to refute them, then it becomes part of the
general consensus we call "scientific knowledge".  Naming is just part
of that process of finding a consensus.

This is why I think these issues are inherent in *scientific names*.

Hmmm, it strikes me that this isn't a bad way to teach how science
works.  It isn't just knowledge handed down from above, but a process
of debate among scientists.

> 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.

Not necessarily.  Hopefully, a consensus will be reached on many of these
issues by then.  The real problem here is that we're too close to the
issues;  no consensus has been reached yet.  If you're going to teach
leading edge science, it's going to be messy.

> Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 08:47:36 +0930
> From: "King, Norm" <nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu>
> To: dinosaur@lepomis.psych.upenn.edu
> Subject: Re: Coelophysis/Rioarribasaurus
>  On what basis SHOULD coelophysid genera be
> distinguished, and why?  Why not establish three _species_ differentiated
> on the basis of obturator foramen?:

Isn't this the question, indeed?  How do we resolve it?  Right now,
we publish papers making our arguments.  And if we think we need a
new genus, we publish that, too.

> Hunt and Lucas might have discussed their findings with
> Colbert, and they could have issued a joint paper, or two papers
> back-to-back, discussing the issue.  In absence of that, Hunt and Lucas
> could have announced beforehand that they planned to establish a new
> genus for the Ghost Ranch material, and their justification.  It might
> have been good to get all the type material together and made available
> for direct comparison by anyone interested--perhaps at a special session
> at an SVP meeting.  With feedback from the paleontological community, the
> perceived best course of action could have been taken that might have
> avoided much or all of the confusion and other adverse effects caused by
> decisions made by a relatively small group of people, announced as a
> _fait accompli_.

But why?  Isn't this the whole point of scientific publishing?  To
make your argument?  It *isn't* a _fait accompli_ at all.  It's an
argument, and if it's a bad argument, no one would pay much attention.
If no one else agreed that Ghost Ranch theropods were sufficiently
different from _Coelophysis_, the _Rioarribasaurus_ name would have
been ignored (or rather, refuted and ignored).

You're arguing that the process of forming a consensus for naming
specimens should proceed outside of what has always been a normal
scientific channel - publication.  I disagree, and don't really see
what it would solve, anyway.

Science *is* messy and complicated on the edges.  For whatever it's
worth, I think that needs to be taught to students.  It's something
that is usually neglected.  You're complaining about having
to teach your students that when I think you *should* be teaching
your students exactly that - if you're teaching a science class,
and not just a quick catalog of dinosaurs, anyway.  IMHO.

Bob Myers                              InteleNet Communications, Inc.
Email: bob@InteleNet.net               30 Executive Park, Suite 150
Phone: 714-851-8250 x227               Irvine, CA 92714
Fax:   714-851-1088                    http://www.intelenet.net/