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Names, professional courtesy, and more


In a hopes to diffuse some tensions here, and to add my $0.02, some

* In general, I'm not too fond of the widespread use of nomina nuda and
similar premature name announcements in non-technical, fringe technical, and
heck, once in a while, technical literature.  The latter case can be from
mis-judging timing as anything else: for example, Chiappe using the name of
his not-yet-released abelisaurid in "Walking on Eggs" or on an SVP slide
before the paper is out.   (And no: I don't know when the paper is coming
out). An especially tricky spot for this is taxonomic lists for particular
formations/localities; as these are sometimes done by committee, the primary
person responsible for the compilation of the table is not always aware of
the current taxonomic status of all names on the list.

The first category, non-technical, includes popular articles and such: in
these cases, the name might slip out because the authors already know what
they want to call it, but haven't gotten around to writing the papers yet.
Nevertheless, they are so used to calling the fossil by that name that it is
second nature.  A special case of this: museum exhibit guides, which can be
notorious for prematurely announcing names, or even announcing names that
are eventually replaced by others.

The middle category, what I just dubbed "fringe technical", is the trickiest
of all.  This includes nearly all the compilations of "all dinosaur names
ever named", whether in print or on the Internet.  (For that matter, the
Internet itself has greatly aided-and-abetted fringe technical literature).
These publications are not Science as such, and many are done without
serious peer review, but they (in principle) try to uphold the virtues of
biological nomenclature.  However, they ALSO try to hold to the virtues of
"completeness", and therein lies the problem.  I FULLY understand this
virtue, and have made plenty of these types of lists in the past.  However,
they can cause problems

Mickey has commented on the "widespread" use of ""Chaoyangosaurus" from
1983-1998, before it was described as Chaoyangsaurus".  This use was NOT
widespread, and was essentially absent in the technical literature.  It WAS
present in the Great Compilations of Names, but not in (say) _The
Dinosauria_, even if some of the authors of the appropriate chapters knew
very well that that taxon was coming out eventually.

So, my general recommendation is that which was followed in The Dinosauria:
unless the name is really, truly formally published and out there, be as
courteous as possible to the authors and the rest of the community and DON'T
use the informal name.  Call the critters "Chilantaisaurus" maortuensis or
"new Wyoming megalosaur" or whatever, until the formal name is there, even
if you know what names are planned for it.  The croc-workers have behaved
much, much more professionally about this, referring to the "Kayenta croc"
or the "Fruita croc" (for example) by informal names for *decades*, waiting
for these formal names (which are known in the community in some cases) to
be published. (Incidentally, are either of these two examples published yet?
Must check...).

So I would advocate the virtue of courtesy over the desire to show that you
know a special name, and in problematic cases to favor courtesy.

Just my opinion; use it as you will.

* In Mickey's defense, the special case of "Brontoraptor": First off, I and
others who've seen specimens or casts are not at all convinced yet it is
distinct from _Edmarka_, _Torvosaurus_, or even from _T. tanneri_.  Be that
as it may, this name has already wormed its way into the literature in
(among other cases) Jerry Harris' _Acrocanthosaurus_ paper (NMMNHS Bulletin
13).  This suite of fossils is one of those that's hard to ignore: it adds a
lot of info to our knowledge of Jurassic North American basal tetanurines.
I REALLY hope Seigwarth et al. try and get the anatomical description
published formally soon.

                Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                Vertebrate Paleontologist
Department of Geology           Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland          College Park Scholars
                College Park, MD  20742
Phone:  301-405-4084    Email:  tholtz@geol.umd.edu
Fax (Geol):  301-314-9661       Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-405-0796