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RE: Sauropodz r kewl WAS silly ramble
It was not my intention to be hostile, so the tone of the response I received
from Mike seems particularly odd.
Consider that the commentary of this entire thread has been on the efficacy
of certain names, especially referring to *Brachiosaurus* as an equivalence to
*Brachiosaurus altithorax*, which in zoological terms would be just *B.
altithorax* for the most part. In Paleontology, it is rather *Brachiosaurus*.
Just that. A great example of this at work is the low degree of use of the
species epithet in the latest *Fruitadens haagarorum* paper, or even the casual
form by which paleontologists discuss taxa like *Torosaurus* or *Triceratops*
without ever using the species epithet (because, for the most part, in their
minds these are secondary elements of the concept they are describing).
This has MUCH to do with the actual qualification that occurs when the
"genus" is employed, as it sets up a secondary justification for the primary
motive of the terminology use: *Brachiosaurus*, being capitalized, it the
primary element of the name, a fault I'd rather lay at the feet of Linnaeus
than anyone else, but a typical effect in the classical language he was using.
We are trained, in a variety of manners, to refer to things like last names
as primary elements of address, and in this case the species epithet is a
subset of the superset of the "genus," and is less important. In many ways,
Linnaean taxonomy starts as the language does and places the primary noun in
front of the modifying epithet, which is a verb or adjective, and thus not
relevant. Zoology, instead, treats the epithet as more relevant to the actual
species identity, and the organism involved, rather than the "genus," which
thus has less functionality in biological traditions.
Despite this, it is still being used. Workers on this list know that there
are arguments for the removal of genera, and in fact all Linnaean ranks, and
even the ICZN doesn't tolerate or regard anything higher than "family-level"
Growing is the movement to abandon ranks, and their concordant problems. I've
written on this on my blog ad nauseam, and of course many of the offenders have
defended their choices, but all of them have and will continue to use "genus"
without any care for its lack of scientific value. When Mike argues about what
I'm talking about, his very message is ripe with the problem I speak of, his
continuing demonstration that despite knowing a genus means nothing, _he's
still using it_.
When Mike says "[t]hey're just names on characteristic specimens", then he
really doesn't understand the problem to its extreme: scientific nomenclature
names the specimens as proxies for a set of organisms, but the "genus" and the
"species" are completely different from the _specimens_, and intend to describe
instead a set without any concordant value. _They have no intrinsic value_.
Regardless of any recognition of the problem, it persists. Several
discussions in this thread are an example, especially any discussion about
lumping or splitting anything. NONE of that would occur of the taxa being
mentioned lacked any sort of "calibrating" nomenclature like ranks to align
Note that I have no problem with designating a host of taxa like *sinensis*
and *youngi* and *mongoliensis* within a taxon named *Psittacosaurus*. Those
names have explicit assignments that coordinate them to specimens that are
representative of a broader set with a more cloudy or unknown limit. I
similarly have no problem with a taxon named *Giraffatitan* or another named
*Brachiosaurus*. What I have a problem with is people determining that a taxon
named *brancai* MUST or SHOULD be divided from *altithorax* in a fixed fashion
that can be comapred to other issues, like how to divide *Psittacosaurus* into
neat, clean "genera" or whatever. We presume that the primary name is the one
directly linked to the specimen, and this can take a variety of forms,
including the "species," the "genus species couplet," the "divided uninomial,"
and so forth; none of these actually require the Linnaean System to function.
It persists regardless, and this effect is implicit in our language
describing how we treat the taxa. It was this I was directly referring to when
mentioning how paleontologists and zoologists may have directly contradicting
views on species identification, despite using the same nomenclatural system.
And this is called Science....
Jaime A. Headden
The Bite Stuff (site v2)
"Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969)
"Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a
different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race
has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or
his new way of looking at things." --- Zapp Brannigan (Beast With a Billion
> From: email@example.com
> Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 11:38:31 +0100
> Subject: Re: Sauropodz r kewl WAS silly ramble
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> CC: Dinosaur.Mailing.List@listproc.usc.edu
> What are you talking about? NO-ONE in this discussion has claimed
> that genera (or for that matter) are "real". The issue is entirely
> about nomenclature. Because we inherited our system from
> neontologists for whom a binomial is a useful convention, we
> palaeontologists also use it even though it's not useful for us. The
> near-universal use of monospecific genera
> is a simple, pragmatic solution -- that's all.
> No-one is arguing about what genera "really" are. Because they're not
> "really" anything. They're just names on characteristic specimens.
> -- Mike.
> On 17 April 2012 10:28, Jaime Headden <email@example.com> wrote:
> > Chiming in briefly. I'd reply instead to the comments of Anthony Docimo,
> > but Mike's reply is here now, so I'll go with this. This is not intended to
> > be a direct reply to Mike, but it does call out to something (or the
> > manner) of what he wrote.
> > Mike Taylor wrote:
> > <Correct. For all *practical* purposes, Brachiosaurus is a terminal taxon.
> > The moment you try to refer another species into that genus (e.g.
> > "Brachiosaurus" brancai (Janensch 1914)) you are gambling your> name on a
> > phylogenetic hypothesis, and begging to have it removed to a different
> > genus (Paul 1988, Taylor 2009).>
> > There is a persistent illusion involved in the nomenclature of ALL
> > animals (not just dinosaurs) that are primarily investigated by
> > paleontologists. This illusion does not necessarily exist in zoologists who
> > investigate LIVING taxa, and is rather the reverse view. That is, that the
> > "genus" is not only meaningful but often identical to that of the species.
> > In this case, rather than the case of a tiered level of named taxa
> > (generally beginning at the species), paleontologists generally anchor
> > their nomenclature at the "genus" first, and specialize forms thereafter
> > (naming new species, which is really what we end up arguing about when we
> > talk about which "genus" *brancai* belongs to).
> > While the case of zoologists tend to be largely conflated with the use of
> > Linnaean terminology, they usually explain and describe taxa through the
> > form of specialized or subsets of these taxa: the white rhino, the eastern
> > grey squirrel, the reticulated python, etc. They equate some of these
> > qualifiers with "species" names or groups of species, or subspecies, but
> > these tend not to actually refer to general morphologies. As such,
> > biologists tend to refer to taxa using the species name, so *C. simum,* *S.
> > carolinensis* and *P. reticulatus*, respectively. Species names, especially
> > species groups by species name referents, are more common in extant and
> > Recent zoological studies and descriptions.
> > Paleontologists, perhaps as an artefact of their perspective born from
> > limited resources on variation and such, tend to look at broader categories
> > of groups, and tend specialize from there when data is suggestive. This
> > results in a heavy dose of referring to taxa through the less specific, or
> > "genus," category. Thus, *Ceratotherium,* *Sciurus* and *Python*
> > (respectively). This seems to influence the ability of paleontologists to
> > willingly allow multiple species in a "genus," but there are other
> > attitudes and perspectives that differentiate the results of this into the
> > "lumper" and "splitter" mentalities.
> > The real takeaway to this is that perennial and oft-ignored element of
> > taxonomy, the nature and/or existence of the "genus" and "species." There
> > is more of a trend to attempt to justify the actual existence of "genera"
> > through active ignorance by paleontologists of species diversity in common
> > with zoological taxonomy, which has resulted in no end to use debating the
> > topic of the reliability or justification of species referral -- and
> > especially erection of "genera" -- with or without phylogenetic analysis.
> > This is no more apparent than the argument that "genera" can be coined or
> > lumped with a single phylogenetic analysis, that species can be moved
> > around by the same, or that any of this is realistically meaningful in the
> > first place.
> > All of it could actually be avoided by doing away with the premise that
> > the "genus" exists. It doesn't. What form we name a biological grouping,
> > and how we related these groups to one another, is a different matter
> > entirely, and the use of "genera" (and even the differing ways we consider
> > "species") obscures and muddles this argument. I fault everyone in this
> > argument for continuing to use this confusing and frankly unscientfic
> > framework to have this discussion.
> > Headden out ... and Cheers,
> > Jaime A. Headden
> > The Bite Stuff (site v2)
> > http://qilong.wordpress.com/
> > "Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969)
> > "Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a
> > different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race
> > has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or
> > his new way of looking at things." --- Zapp Brannigan (Beast With a Billion
> > Backs)
> > ----------------------------------------
> >> Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 09:36:34 +0100
> >> From: firstname.lastname@example.org
> >> To: email@example.com
> >> CC: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
> >> Subject: Re: Sauropodz r kewl WAS silly ramble
> >> On 17 April 2012 09:13, Anthony Docimo <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> >> >> Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 08:15:15 +0100
> >> >> From: email@example.com
> >> >> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> >> >> CC: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
> >> >> Subject: Re: Sauropodz r kewl WAS silly ramble
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >> >> > (Well, that or dinosaur paleontologists could stop putting every
> >> >> >> > new
> >> >> >> > species in its own genus, already!)
> >> >> >>
> >> >> >> I think they should (at least for the most part) stop pretending to
> >> >> >> recognize species at all.
> >> >> >
> >> >> > but then wouldn't the Genus be the new LITUs?
> >> >>
> >> >> Yes. But with the crucial advantage that the name itself no longer
> >> >> depends on a phylogenetic hypothesis. When I name a new dinosaur as
> >> >> (say)_a species of Brachiosaurus, if it then turns out that
> >> >> Cedarosaurus weiskopfae clades closer to Brachiosaurus altithorax
> >> >> proper than to my new animal, then either I have to move mine to a new
> >> >> genus, or move the species weiskopfae into Brachiosaurus.
> >> >
> >> > Ah, okay; see, here is where my confusion may have arisen in this case:
> >> > when I hear "let's get rid of the 'Species' rank"...what my mind
> >> > interprets that as is "let there be nothing below Genus".
> >> Yes, exactly. Among dinosaurs, there really IS nothing below genus.
> >> (There are a few exceptions: a few dinosaur genera that contain
> >> multiple species. In pretty much every case, there are arguments
> >> about those referrals.)
> >> > ...which leads to, in your example, the question of "how do you move
> >> > weiskopfae into Brachiosaurus, when there is nothing below
> >> > Brachiosaurus?"
> >> >> Either way,
> >> >> an actual NAME changes, which is never good for any meaningful
> >> >> stability. Much better just to give each species its own genus name
> >> >> and let them shuffle around the tree as they will.
> >> >
> >> > Sounds like a paradise for splitters. (or a paradise of what lumpers
> >> > fear from splitters)
> >> So?
> >> Really. What *specifically* would be bad about this?
> >> Linnaeus invented the binomial convention while thinking about extant
> >> diversity. That differs hugely from Mesozoic diversity in two ways.
> >> First, there is appallingly more of it, so that coming up with a
> >> unique uninomial for each species is just impractical, whereas for all
> >> the rapid growth in named dinosaur genera, we're still only around the
> >> 1000 mark. Second, you can get multiple complete specimens of extant
> >> species, so you can make much firmer conclusions about phylogeny
> >> (which isn't to say that that neontologists don't make mistakes). But
> >> when you're dealing with 150-million-year-old species that are based
> >> on very partial, badly crushed and broken specimens (usually only
> >> one), then EVERY phylogenetic hypothesis is really a wild guess, and
> >> almost certain to be contradicted somewhere down the line. In that
> >> situation, it's crazy to tie terminal-taxon nomenclature to phylogeny.
> >> Put it this way: if Linnaean taxonomy didn't exist and we were
> >> inventing a nomenclatural system from scratch for Mesozoic dinosaurs,
> >> we would NEVER come up with the idea of binomials.
> >> > Though, if there are no species ranks, wouldn't that create even more
> >> > arguments about if the new find is a Brachiosaurus? (before the
> >> > elimination of Species, we might have said "the new find is a variant of
> >> > Brachiosaurus altithorax")...I'm particularly fearing what the
> >> > ceratopsian debates will become with no subdivisions below Torosaurus,
> >> > Triceratops, etc.
> >> Why? What exactly do you fear? The arguments would be arguments
> >> about *science* rather than about taxonomy. That's a better use of
> >> all our time.
> >> -- Mike.