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Re: New name for Syntarsus



From: Ben Creisler bh480@scn.org

The obvious problem here is that a nomenclatural issue 
(preoccupied name Syntarsus) that could have gone through 
paleontological channels went through entomological 
channels instead. While it seems a genuine effort was made 
to contact Raath, the basic focus of the paper and the 
research was on issues related to insects and not 
dinosaurs.  Clearly it would have helped if more dinosaur 
people had been consulted at some stage and could have 
corrected the unfortunate assumption that Raath was 
deceased. 

To expand a bit on my point:
1)  If a paper solely to replace the name Syntarsus had 
been submitted to a paleontological publication such as 
the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Journal of 
Paleontology, etc, it's likely some paleontologist would 
have known that Raath was still alive and active as a 
researcher and could have raised a red flag.  I'm assuming 
that the actual paper about various insect genera was only 
submitted to an entomological journal and so would never 
get a peer review by a number of paleontologists (not just 
the one who thought Raath was dead).

 2) It's maybe not surprising that a letter could have 
been lost in the mail in Africa, particularly if it went 
to Zimbabwe. It would have been a good idea  to contact 
the journal Palaeontologica Africana in South Africa as 
well, since Raath has had various papers published in the 
journal and has done editorial work--but maybe it's a 
publication only paleontologists would know about.

3) Some check of the paleontological literature for 
articles on Syntarsus would have been a good idea before 
the paper was published. Raath published an article in 
1999 about Syntarsus, which may have been after the paper 
proposing Megapnosaurus was submitted, but it's always 
possible to retract part of a paper before it's published.

The ICZN Code of Ethics 6 states:
Editors and others responsible for the publication of 
zoological paper should avoid publishing any material 
which appears to them to contain a breach of the above 
principles.

Maybe the editors of Insecta Mundi could have done some 
additional checking-- but it's likely they found the 
proposal of a replacement name routine and didn't question 
the details that editors or reviewers at a paleontological 
journal might have (just as those editors and reviewers 
might not question details of a replacement name for an 
insect).

There may be a lesson in this situation--when a 
nomenclatural issue spans more than more realm of zoology 
(in this case both entomology and vertebrate 
paleontology), contacting a range of researchers in a 
field or asking for help from a professional research 
librarian (who could have determined if Raath was still 
alive) is the better way to go.

Finally, blaming Raath for using a preoccupied name in the 
first place is pretty unfair--it happens to zoologists all 
the time, including entomologists.