Stability of names...

Chris J. Durden drdn at
Wed Sep 20 02:15:17 EDT 2000

>Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2000 01:13:44 -0500
>To: dyanega at
>From: "Chris J. Durden" <drdn at>
>Subject: Re: Stability of names...
>In-Reply-To: <b5ee926401021004f644@[]>
>At 10:19  20/09/00 -0700, you wrote:
>>One of the big proponents of a "rankless" scheme visited UCR a short while
>>ago, and his sales pitch was essentially to use phylogenies to develop
>>classifications, and that names could be applied at whatever junction on
>>the tree one liked, but not redefined once coined. Thus "greater stability"
>>is achieved, in theory.
>>        For example, under the present system, if we agree with the most
>>robust-looking analyses, the Rhopalocera make the Geometroidea a
>>paraphyletic group (in other words, butterflies are one of the descendant
>>clades within the superfamily Geometroidea, and their *exclusion* is
>>phylogenetically inappropriate), and we should simply include them, and
>>redefine Geometroidea accordingly. People will just have to accommodate the
>>new classification, and get in the habit of thinking that way. This exact
>>sort of thing has happened repeatedly in other groups of insects and other
>>animals, and people have adapted. Ultimately, the name persists
>>("Geometroidea" in this case), but its meaning changes.
>>        Under a rankless system, we permanently DEFINE "Geometroidea" as
>>"Apoprogonidae + Axiidae + Callidulidae + Cyclidiidae + Drepanidae +
>>Epicopeiidae + Epiplemidae + Geometridae + Pterothysanidae + Sematuridae +
>>Thyatiridae + Uraniidae" (our present classification), and if someone comes
>>along and subsequently insists that we shoehorn the Rhopalocera in there
>>(where they belong, really), then they have to create a *new* name for the
>>new group thus created. Ultimately, in this case, the meaning of the name
>>"Geometroidea" is not changed, but the name becomes effectively superfluous
>>and goes out of circulation (since the group it defines proves not to be a
>>natural group, and so no one is likely to ever desire to use it again),
>>while a new name is created to take its place, and everyone has to learn
>>the new name. This is what rankless advocates consider to be "greater
>>        To me, it looks exactly like the proverbial "six of one, half a
>>dozen of the other". In what way is the creation of new names EVERY TIME a
>>different phylogeny is published more stable than redefining the old names
>>every time? Either way, something changes and we are all forced to re-learn
>>the classification. Well, DUH! Frankly, I find it easier to keep track of
>>new definitions than to keep track of ever-growing lists of new versus
>>defunct names. Think of it this way: if rankless proponents have their way,
>>then it is virtually inevitable that all the old rank names will get wiped
>>away one by one and replaced, so we won't have things like "Papilionidae",
>>"Nymphalidae", "Lycaenidae", etc. to talk about any more. I don't see that
>>sort of incessant, inevitable turnover of names as an improvement.
>- - - - - -
>  This looks to me like chaos!
>- - - - - -(CD)
>>I also see Chris Durden just wrote:
>>>I think in these days
>>>of translator programs we should go back to the requirement of publication
>>>of diagnoses in Latin.
>>Have you seen the recent paper (originally an internet "publication") by
>>Burnside, Smith & Kambhampati where they describe three new Cryptocercus
>>roaches, the diagnosis for each species being its DNA sequence? I kid you
>>not (J. Kansas Ent. Soc. 72: 361-378)!! I'd like to see you translate THAT
>>into Latin. 
>- - - - -
>Ah *Cryptocercus*, I know him well. There is scant aparrent morphological
difference between *C. punctulatus* of the Apalachians, *C.* sp. of the
Cascades and *C.* sp. of Manchuria, but they certainly have different
niches. I must go down to the library and check this out.
>  I would rather have a latin diagnosis than one in Chinese or Cree. The
DNA sequence is a picture chart, a cartoon representing the observed data.
As such it is not different from a sketch of the genitalia or chromosomes.
The individual differences can be explained in latin, just as they should
be in English (or other language of the author).
>..........Chris Durden
>- - - - -
>We are sitting at the brink, folks, of the death of taxonomy.
>>The gene jockeys might win. Won't it be fun when we all won't be able to
>>identify an insect to species without paying someone to do its sequence for
>>us? I can see it now: "Well, son, that COULD be a Luna Moth, but there are
>>13 genetically distinct species in that complex now, and we don't have a
>>molecular lab in the basement, so I can't tell you for sure..."
>- - - - -
>  I would be happy with an interim identification of "one of the luna
moths" or "a species in the *Actias luna* complex. What do we do with
leopard frogs? We manage.
>- - - - -
>>Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
>>Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
>>phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
>>  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
>>        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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