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Re: Nomina nuda and crap species

"To what extent is it reasonable to assume that these people, who come at paleo purely as a hobby, have responsibilities for understanding the good practices and the rules governing the field?"

They have no responsibility to learn about the code, although understanding some basics will help one get more out what one reads and see. The code, like any legal codex, can be difficult to understand at times. Someone who wants to publish a paper naming new taxa or undertaking other nomenclatorial acts, does have that responsibility. However, if an interest enthusiast doesn't understand the fundamental issues concerning creating new taxa they will remain bewildered about the debates and might think that scientists are just "elitists", a term I have seen thrown around in some discussions. If names can be created willy-nilly without restraint, the result is chaos and effective communication about identification, diversity, and phylogeny will be very, very difficult.


Rob Taylor wrote:
I've been following these threads on the DML and over at SV-POW! with great interest, not to mention a little dismay, since things have grown a tad heated of late. As it happens, I've enjoyed cordial correspondence with - and learned a tremendous amount from - both dedicated amateurs and professional paleontologists alike. The former group includes some self-publishers, and while I recognize that serious issues are being raised here that warrant discussion, it would seem that in this, of all fields, said discussions should be more evolutionary than devolutionary in nature.

In his recent post, Graeme Worth raises an issue I've long pondered, and because I hope it spurs some additional discussion, I thought I'd toss the perspective of another layperson into the ring. Dinosaur paleontology seems to stand out in terms of having a following of hard core enthusiasts who simply want to learn more. I'm a textbook example of the sort of person Graeme described in his post. A collector and a completist by nature (as well as someone who loves to organize, sort, collate...), I want to know not only about every dinosaur and pterosaur, but also about every dinosaur and pterosaur name, ever to have been published. (This excludes fictitious ones, of course. I follow Olshevsky's rule for his Dinosaur Genera List in that a name has to be based on actual skeletal material to be of interest).

Consequently, for me, identifying and getting my hands on, say, a popular book that includes half a dozen nicknames for as yet unpublished dinos is just as important as nabbing the next peer-reviewed journal article that erects a new genus and species. True, I learn much more from the latter, but the collector in me sees them as equally important. So, is this pursuit misguided? I certainly hope it isn't. It's of interest to me, and serves to further my knowledge, so I'm hard-pressed to see it as a bad thing.

That said, for the professional, I'm sure herein lies some of the hazards of our age. The Internet, the open access movement, and public forums like the DML (not to mention your own good will and outreach efforts!) have done wonders toward making learning accessible to anyone who has an interest. That's a good thing, but I'm certain there are a lot of beginners out there who don't recognize the consequences if a name from a dissertation, for example, is bandied about freely via email or on public forums. (As a disconcerting aside, it's with surprising frequency that I receive from fellow enthusiasts - always unsolicited, mind you - unpublished and often unsubmitted manuscripts. How these are acquired I have no idea, but whenever it happens, I respond to the sender and strongly suggest that they stick the PDF in a folder marked 'Quarantine' and leave it the Hell alone until the paper is formally published.)

Anyway, Dan Chure's suggestion that it's worth learning about the ICZN Code is perfectly valid, and I think it would hold value for anyone with a serious interest in the field. But it's important to remember that professionals don't hold a monopoly on learning about a subject of interest. I'm sure I'm not alone in being a casual, if serious-minded enthusiast who performs independent research for the sheer enjoyment of furthering my knowledge. To what extent is it reasonable to assume that these people, who come at paleo purely as a hobby, have responsibilities for understanding the good practices and the rules governing the field? I dunno. I for one try to do no harm, and recognizing my limitations, attempt to limit my posts on the DML to those that have at least a little substance and might be of interest to a reosonable number of readers. Personally, my interest in the field is great enough that I did take the time to familiarize myself with the Code, but I'm not sure if it's a reasonable expectation for all enthusiasts.

Returning to Graeme's point, it has always seemed to me that once these names are out there, there's really no turning back. People will indeed find them - they will ask about them, blog about them, discuss them... Dissertation names aside, I've never really understood why there's a perception that interest in nomina nuda should be deflected. For dinosaur novices and casual researchers, list compilers like Olshevsky (and I might add, also capable dinosaur software developers like Graeme) serve a very valuable function in providing an excellent jumping off point for conducting lit searches and learning more. It seems to me that including nomina nuda in these venues, provided that they are clearly identified as such so the status of the each name is made clear, can only help. Is there something we're missing?


Rob Taylor

----- Original Message ----- From: "Dan Chure" <danchure@easilink.com>
To: <gkw@amnet.net.au>
Cc: <dinosaur@usc.edu>
Sent: Saturday, June 12, 2010 4:28 AM
Subject: Re: Nomina nuda and crap species

Spend some time learning about the Code of Zoological Nomenclature.
That is as least as important as collecting names.


Graeme Worth wrote:
There seems to me to be a point in all this that has not been
addressed. Much as we all abhor the proliferation of these "nonsense"
taxa, ignoring them and pretending they don't exist does not seem
particularly helpful. The names will still be there, in whatever
newspaper, self-published brochure, webpage, forum discussion etc. In
most cases, the original report does not contain anything indicating
that these taxa have not been properly diagnosed or should not have
been named. So what does the dinosaur beginner do with these taxa? He
will find them, of that you can be certain. If all he finds is the
original report, how is he expected to make a judgement? Would it not
be better to accept these taxa and include them in appropriate lists
with appropriate comments pointing out the shortfalls and indicating
that these should not be considered valid taxa?
Over to you


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