Message 2001-06-0131: Please Read (sorry it is long)

Wed, 27 Jun 2001 20:34:52 -0500

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Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2001 20:34:52 -0500
From: kritosaurus <>
Subject: Please Read (sorry it is long)

Fellow PhyloCode Aficionados,

            I realize this is a LONG posting, but I hope you will read it,
as I consider it to be an issue at least as touchy as the species issue, if
not more so.

            While I would be the last person to agree with many of the
points Ken Kinman (and others) has made recently on this list, I feel his
vigorous discussions have highlighted an important forthcoming problem. We
have all been made aware, thanks to the vigilance of non-PhyloCode
enthusiasts, of numerous issues of concern to the traditional taxonomic
mindset. While many of these are a reaction to the profound change in
approach that the PhyloCode represents. One such "problem" is the
introduction of priority for the names of "higher taxa."
            In theory, the introduction of priority for suprageneric taxon
names is nothing more than an extension of the principles of Phylogenetic
Nomenclature. However, I think we ALL are aware that of the (sometimes
profound) differences in opinion among any group of workers regarding the
appropriate association of traditional names with clades (i.e., conversion).
With so many opinions, we run the risk of creating a "gold rush" at the time
of the "Starting Date," with workers competing to publish their conversion
schema first.
            For those who are not aware, such efforts are already underway,
with workers choosing venues known for rapid turn-around time, and
publishing comprehensive schema to "get the drop" on workers who favor other
definitions. I must confess I am not immune to this myself. I would prefer
to wait until I have completed my comprehensive phylogenetic analysis to
present before I present my preferred conversion scheme; however, with the
pressure of impending "Starting Date," I fear the author who eventually
secures priority on the conversion of my group will not have access to my
ideas. So I have been considering ways to publish my own ideas earlier, so
that they are at least "on the table." This is not good science.
Other workers who have different ideas may not feel that their ideas have
been fairly heard by the author who finally secures priority. I hardly think
that whether or not Telmatosaurus transsylvanicus should be included in
Hadrosauridae is a matter important enough to be brought before the ICPN.
While issues like this are trivial for newly created clade names, they are
important for traditional taxa; at stake is not only the feelings and
preferences of specialists, but also respect for the original author of a
taxon name (and/or definition, in the case of phylogenetic clade names
proposed before Establishment), and most importantly access to the
This may be an issue more pressing to paleontologists than neontologists, I'
m not sure. Regardless, I think we can all agree that a race to secure
priority is not only troublesome, it is entirely contrary to the spirit of
good systematics. Of one thing I am quite sure: if we leave the ICPN as the
only recourse for those who believe a name was poorly converted, the ICPN
will get very little sleep.

I am not entirely sure what can be done to alleviate this problem. I outline
below a number of possible courses of action. None of these expressly solve
the problem, because, in most cases, the problem is that workers do not
agree, and this is not likely to change anytime soon. Most of these
suggestions only "buy" time. PN is a relatively new idea, and it has only
been in the mainstream for a short while. Too many published critical
discussions right now seem to be centered on attacking the Code itself, and
not enough on how to apply it. If we release the Code earlier, and enforce
some or all of its provisions later, we give people more time to examine and
discuss the issues they feel are critical within the context of the Code as
a fait accompli. I'm sure many people will balk at the idea of waiting,
especially not for the ten years I use repeatedly as an example. However, if
the PhyloCode is to be the new biological nomenclature for the next century
and beyond, another ten years will hardly make a difference.

My suggestions are:

A)            Suspension of definitional priority for converted clade names.
This would be pretty cumbersome, since one would forever have to check the
definition preferred by the author.

B)             Temporary suspension of priority of definition for converted
clade names. A "suggested definition" could be published with the
conversion. Multiple definitions could be accepted for a set period. They
could even be recorded in the database (possibly as emendations). During the
period of suspension, workers would be free to accept any registered
definition, with the proviso that they should consider the alternate
definitions for comparison purposes.
There could be a time limit on this suspension, such as ten years after the
"Start Date," or ten years after registry of the converted clade name;
alternately, there could be a set trigger (addition of ten definitions?).
Once suspension was lifted, there would then have to be a reckoning. I have
NO idea how this would work. There could be a vote (of what body?) or a set
of objective criteria (number of citations for a definition might be a bit
unfair... often one worker's work is accepted by nonspecialists simply
because they are more "renown"). The definition could automatically default
to the one with priority, unless the author with priority deferred. I
honestly don't know what would be best.

C)            Temporary suspension of registration of converted clade names.
Again, this could be for ten years. This might not be very effective, as
those who favored a certain definition might simply define new names to take
the place of the old (e.g., I don't like your crown-group Mammalia, so I'll
define the crown as "Mammaloidea"), and thus force differently minded
workers to accept their favored definition, lose the converted clade name in
dispute, or appeal to the ICPN.

D)        A clause for "friendly emendation," in essence First Review, of
published definitions. This might be a good idea anyway, if only to allow an
author to correct glaring problems (e.g., "boy was the accepted topology
wrong") without necessitating an appeal to the ICPN. I assume this would
only go forward with the original author's approval, although this might be
VERY difficult, considering that at least some authors are mortal. Further,
some authors might use it as a crutch to allow them to secure priority
early, then clean up their nomenclatural "mess" later.

    NOTE: The proliferation of definitions suggested in A-D might cause
confusion regarding priority; if clade A was registered before B, but a
later emended definition is homodefinitional with clade B, which name has

E)         The Code could be published WELL before the "Start Date" (say,
ten years) to give ample time for workers to argue and reiterate their
views. Hopefully, workers might be able to forge a consensus.

    NOTE: ideas B-E do not change the fact that there will be a "gold rush,"
they simply delay it. I think this might be worth it, as it "levels the
playing field."

F)         Each discipline could be responsible for preparing a review paper
establishing the definitions of major converted clade names, effectively
trumping priority. I think the odds of this level of cooperation are just
about nil.

G)        The Advisory Board could pick a set of authors to write papers as
above. I think the odds of this are also slim.

H)        We could do nothing. In this case, there will be a great deal of
strife, and probably some workers will simply choose to ignore priority (I'm
not so sure I wouldn't).

            For the record, I do not favor any of these, and I would greatly
appreciate any suggestions, especially if they lead to a better solution.
Any comments?


Jonathan R. Wagner
9617 Great Hills Trail #1414
Austin, TX 78759

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