Message 2001-02-0059: Re: Codes

Mon, 12 Feb 2001 12:15:05 -0600

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Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2001 12:15:05 -0600
From: "David M. Hillis" <>
Subject: Re: Codes

My copy of Gerry Moore's recent posting was truncated in each 
section, so I couldn't understand several of his points. However, a 
few pieces came through:

>The two systems may use many of the same names but the names are 
>defined in very different ways. The task before the systematic 
>community now is to decide which one is better. I believe that there 
>is not enough evidence yet to make a clear judgment here. It is simp

Group names are not defined at all in the old codes, which is why 
they can be applied by anyone in any way they see fit, as long as 
they contain the type species for the group. The new system does 
indeed remove this "flexibility" (in other words, subjectivity) by 
adding objective definitions to group names. I'm arguing to keep the 
system basically the same, but remove the subjectivity by linking the 
names to evolutionary history (in other words, to real historical 
groups). There are some other added benefits of version 2 
(universality, data base of registered names), but they are all 
essentially added features to the old system. The old system (version 
1) was pre-evolutionary, and it is about time to upgrade it to 
include the advancements of the past 150 or so years in evolutionary 
biology. I want to change as little as necessary to make the system 
objective, evolutionary, comprehensive, and useful, and I want the 
upgrade to be transparent to the vast majority of users. I am 
speaking about my personal goals and preferences; I do not know what 
the eventual convention that adopts the PhyloCode will choose to do. 
I do know that if the convention were to adopt a set of rules that 
forced me to make separate descriptions for taxa under the old and 
new codes (thus creating parallel and competing taxonomies), I would 
no longer have any interest in participating. I do see the PhyloCode 
advantages as great, but I think the advantages can all be 
incorporated as an upgrade.

>III. The Species problem
>In his recent posts Hillis has stressed that the PhyloCode should 
>incorporate rules for species before any official status is accorded 
>to the code. Under such a set of rules what would the status of 
>names be that were created under the existing system? Would species 
>names also require formal conversion from the traditional system 
>into the phylogenetic system? Who would be responsible for handling 
>the issues relating to conservation and rejection of species names? 
>Would the standing committees that deal with these matters under the 
>existing system be "co-opted" by new committees under the PhyloCode?

Gerry must not understand what I mean by forward- and 
reverse-compatibility. Under Method M for species names, the exact 
same species description can fit the rules of both the old and the 
new codes. Thus, people can begin taking advantage of the new system 
immediately (even before a formal PhyloCode is adopted), and the 
names will still be recognized by the old codes. I have species 
descriptions in press that use Method M, but also satisfy all the 
requirements of the ICZN code. They will be treated under the ICZN 
rules until such time as the PhyloCode is officially adopted, after 
which they will fit both sets of rules (with the addition of 
registration). I think this feature is essential to the upgrade 
process. Eventually, everyone will take advantage of the new system's 
features (either in their own descriptions, or by conversion of their 
names by someone else).

David Hillis

David M. Hillis
Director, School of Biological Sciences
Director's office: 512-232-3690 (FAX: 512-232-3699)
Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor
Section of Integrative Biology
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712
Research Office: 512-471-5792
Lab: 512-471-5661
FAX: 512-471-3878


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