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Taxonomic vandalism and the Raymond Hoser problem

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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For some years now, a prolific amateur herpetologist has published an absolutely extraordinary number of new taxonomic names* for snakes, lizards and other reptiles.

Lest we forget, the world is full of amazing snakes. Top row, left to right: Prairie or Western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis), Bornean keeled green pitviper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus) and Mole snake (Pseudapis cana). Lower row, left to right: Rock rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus), Rhinoceros viper (Bitis nasicornis) and Smooth-scaled death adder (Acanthophis laevis). All photos by Wolfgang Wüster and used with permission.

In addition to naming well over 100 supposedly new snake and lizard genera, this individual has also produced taxonomic revisions of the world’s cobras, burrowing asps, vipers, rattlesnakes, water snakes, blindsnakes, pythons, crocodiles and so on. But, alas, his work is not of the careful, methodical, conservative and respected sort that you might associate with a specialised, dedicated amateur; rather, his articles appear in his own, in-house, un-reviewed, decidedly non-technical publications, they’re notoriously unscientific in style and content, and his taxonomic recommendations have been demonstrated to be problematic, frequently erroneous and often ridiculous (witness the many new taxa he has named after his pet dogs; I’m not kidding, I wish I was).

Egyptian cobra (Naja haje): included within the Naja subgenus Uraeus by Wallach et al. (2009) but given a new genus - Wellsus - by Hoser. The name honours Richard Wells (on which, read on). Photo (c) Wolfgang Wüster, used with permission.

In short, the new (and really terribly formulated) taxonomic names that this individual throws out at the global herpetological community represent a sort of taxonomic vandalism; we’re expected to use these names, and – indeed – they’re supposedly officially valid according to the letter of the law, yet they besmirch the field, they litter the taxonomic registry with monstrosities, and they cause working herpetologists to waste valuable time clearing up unnecessary messes when they really should be spending their time on such areas as conservation, biological monitoring, toxicology and the documentation of ranges and environmental preferences.

I am of course talking about Australian researcher and snake hobbyist Raymond Hoser. The charges against him are many. I’ve mentioned Hoser on a few previous occasions on Tet Zoo, most notably in the article on Australian freshwater crocodiles. It’s time to explore the issue in more depth, and now is the right time. We’ll see why in a minute.

* Mostly generic, specific and subspecific names, but some that are at the level of such ranks as subgenera, subtribes and tribes. Ranks, of course, are arbitrary, misleading and should be abolished.

A bit of required background: the concept of taxonomic freedom and the Principle of Priority

The African crocodile Crocodylus suchus, placed in the new genus 'Oxycrocodylus' by Hoser. What's the etymology? The names honours Hoser’s dog, Oxyuranus (itself named after the Australian snake). Photographer unknown: this image appeared on carnivora forum.

One of the key principles of zoological taxonomy – the practise and science of naming organisms – is what’s known as taxonomic freedom. In other words, it’s acknowledged that not all experts agree on how animals should be classified: are members of set x all members of the same species, or are some actually members of species y? Or are we seeing intrapopulational variation, sexual dimorphism, ontogeny, or some other aspect of variation? Debates over species boundaries and taxonomic interpretations are commonplace and it typically takes a lot of work to sort them out (via, for example, statistical analyses of large numbers of individuals, molecular phylogenetics, and so on).

The Principle of Priority makes sense, but it's not always our friend. We're stuck, for example, with the name Basilosaurus for this extinct whale. Photo by Darren Naish.

Moving on, a well-established rule of the taxonomic naming system is the so-called Principle of Priority. Because people sometimes name the same organism more than once (sometimes because they don’t know about the work of their predecessors, sometimes because they think they’re dealing with a new genus, species or subspecies when they actually aren’t, and sometimes because they’re naughty and are trying to make a claim-jump), it’s agreed that the very first name given to the organism is the one that we have to stick to, even if that first name is terrible or stupid. There are special cases where a name can be overturned but, by and large, the Principle of Priority is pretty important and it more or less guarantees a namer’s ‘place in history’ (remember that the full scientific name of an organism includes more than the organism’s name alone: Homo sapiens, for example, is properly Homo sapiens Linnaeus, 1758).

Hugh, what have you done? Hugh Edwin Strickland, as illustrated in 1858 by Francis William Wilkin (image in public domain). In 1842, Strickland worked with others in the British Association to establish the Principle of Priority.

So, if you encounter an animal that you, personally, regard as worthy of distinct taxonomic recognition, you’re within your rights to name it as such, so long as you follow the rules set out in the ICZN (= International Code of Zoological Nomenclature) by the ICZN (= International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature). Once you publish it, the name is (more or less) forever burned into history.

What are these “rules”? As you can see for yourself at the ICZN site, a new name has to be published in a permanent, duplicable form that’s available to others, it has to be clearly stated as a new name, it has to be published within the context of the binomial (or binominal) system, and it must be established on a type specimen – basically, a key reference specimen. Notably, many of the key ideas that we typically associate with the publication of scientific research – like standards of practise, an appropriate level of scholarship, and peer review – are, actually, not required by the ICZN.

In other words, individuals can still work within the Code even if their conclusions, proposals and work in general is problematical and unsatisfactory. They can still name new species that, technically speaking, are valid, available and (in theory) fixed due to the Principle of Priority.

Mega-prolific Raymond Hoser: one of the greatest herpetologists of all time!

George Boulenger (1858-1937), Belgian-British zoologist and prolific describer of new amphibians, reptiles and other organisms. In all, he named over 2000 new species (556 of which are amphibians and 872 of which are reptiles). Needless to say, not all have passed the test of time. His impact on our knowledge has been enormous. Image in public domain.

Back to Hoser. I don’t mean to denigrate Mr Hoser’s research abilities, experience with snakes and other reptiles, or intelligence. As others before me have said, it’s obvious that he does have extensive, impressive, detailed knowledge of reptile diversity, anatomy and biology. But, the fact is that he is very obviously, cleverly, ‘cheating’ his way through zoological nomenclature. Yes, he’s naming, and publishing umpteen new herpetological names. If you want some figures: he named 89 tribes and subtribes, 113 genera, 64 subgenera, 25 species and 53 subspecies between 2000 and September 2012 alone: that’s 76% of all new genera and subgenera named worldwide during that period (Kaiser et al. 2013). If these taxonomic recommendations and proposals were valid, they would make Hoser a more significant taxonomic force than most of the great explorer-herpetologists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Unlike the respected work produced by the experts of the past, however, Hoser’s is typically amazingly slapdash.

Australia sure has some amazing elapids. Given that Hoser claims to have the interests of the animals at heart, it's bizarre that he defaces their taxonomy with horrible names that never honour the animals themselves. This is Oxyuranus microlepidotus, the Inland taipan. Photo by AllenMcC, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

In fact, the impression you get from his articles – all appearing in his self-published Australasian Journal of Herpetology, and before that in several amateur publications including Litteratura Serpentium and The Monitor – is that they’re written as much to piss off working herpetologists and to vent his own spleen as anything else. They are, frankly, shockingly and hilariously unscientific. Many include long rants directed at officials and employees of local government as well as at qualified researchers. There are in fact so many cases of this non-scientific – in fact, truly amateurish, if not childish – practise in his articles that there are too many to recount. [Adjacent photo by AllenMcC.]

If you’re curious about the technical shortcomings of his taxonomic proposals, let’s look at a few of them. In order to make a claim for the distinctive nature of an alleged new taxon, you need to state those features that make it distinctive. In other words, you need to diagnose it. Hoser’s diagnoses are typically inadequate, contradictory, vague, or erroneous, sometimes referring to features that aren’t unique (example: the black labial markings in his ‘species’ Acanthophis crotalusei), and sometimes referring vaguely to work on scale counts, overall appearance or DNA that hasn’t been documented or published anywhere (Wüster et al. 2001, Kaiser et al. 2013). [Death adder photo below by Petra Karstedt.]

Death adders are incredible snakes. This is the Smooth-scaled death adder (Acanthophis laevis); photo by Petra Karstedt, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Germany license.

Northern white-lipped python (Leiopython albertisi), named for Papuan explorer Luigi Maria D'Albertis. A beautiful mammal-eating python that is sometimes strikingly iridescent. Photo by Dawson, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Alleged new taxa have also been based on specimens where the ‘diagnostic’ characters clearly represent post-mortem distortion (see examples discussed in Kaiser et al. 2013). To add insult to injury, Hoser has sometimes named the same alleged new taxa on more than one occasion. Leiopython albertisi barkeri Hoser, 2000 is the same as L. a. barkerorum Hoser, 2009 which was then redescribed as if it were new in 2012. Similarly, Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri Hoser, 2002 is the same as O. s. andrewwilsoni Hoser, 2009 (Kaiser et al. 2013). Many of the new names Hoser creates are incorrectly formulated: see Wüster et al. (2001) for a list and their amendments. [Adjacent Leiopython photo by Dawson.]

Slapping names on cladograms: it’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s dirty

Another thing that Hoser does is look at published cladograms, note cases where genera or species are shown as being non-monophyletic, and then act by naming those lineages that don’t group with the type species of the given genus. In principle this isn’t necessarily a bad practise, but read on.

Keeled slug snake (Pareas carinatus). Close relatives of this species - conventionally included within Pareas - were put into the new genus 'Katrinahoserserpenea' by Hoser. Image by W. A. Djatmiko, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

There are numerous examples of this; they explain why Hoser has published such names as Katrinahoserserpenea for certain Oriental slug-eating snakes (Hoser 2012a), Katrinahoserea for the Green ratsnake (Hoser 2012b), Swileserpens for the Pale-headed forest snake (Hoser 2012c), Michaelnicholsus for members of the Madagascan hognosed snake group (Hoser 2012c), Lukefabaserpens and Ginafabaserpenae for some of the cat-eyed snakes (Hoser 2012d), Gregwedoshus and Neilsonnemanus for certain garter snakes (Hoser 2012e), Jackyhosernatrix for certain natricine water snakes (Hoser 2012f), Sharonhoserea for the Southern smooth snake (Hoser 2012f), so on and on and on. [Adjacent photo of Pareas carinatus by W. A. Djatmiko.]

Note the terrible, terrible names that Hoser comes up with: other notable word-monsters include Adelynhoserserpenae, Charlespiersonserpens, Euanedwardsserpens, Moseselfakharikukri, Trioanotyphlops and Martinwellstyphlops. Most (maybe all?) of Hoser’s taxonomic names are patronyms: names that honour people. That’s fine, but there has to be a limit to this sort of behaviour, especially when the namer is repeatedly naming things after the members of their own family and after their pets. As I said earlier, Hoser has named several taxa after his pet dogs, explaining at length how these noble canines have contributed more to herpetology than have the majority of the world’s researching academics (e.g., Hoser 2012g).

Hoser frequently points to cladograms (such as this one: this is the natricine section of Pyron et al.'s (2011) giant colubrid phylogeny) to support the taxonomic splits and re-namings that he proposes. Yes, non-monophyly abounds in studies like this. But is it right to jump all over the cladogram and get to work slapping names all over the place? These things take time and a lot of work to sort out and do properly.

We do, of course, all know of cases where long-standing genera and/or species do indeed warrant revision. However, how are researchers meant to act when they spot these sorts of problems? My suggestion: once such a problem has been identified, good practise is to compile and run your own analysis, not to rush out a brief, non-illustrated article, the only purpose of which is to slap a name on a given lineage. If a researcher played the name-bagging name once in their career they might be forgiven (as I said, we all know of cases where new names are needed and people are just waiting for someone to come along and sort the mess out). But if they did this as a matter of course, again and again and again, typically naming new taxa after their family members and such, I think it would be pretty clear that they were deliberately and desperately ‘name-bagging’ in the hope for taxonomic immortality.

Incidentally, if, at this stage, you’re thinking that the taxonomic names we apply to snakes and other reptiles don’t really matter, think again. The whole reason we give names to things is so that we can talk about those things with other people. Confusion and disagreement are the opposite of useful when we’re dealing with conservation and summoning up the political and social will to protect animals and their environments. Furthermore, venomous snakes are a special case since a stable nomenclature known to people in the healthcare profession is a must; or it is, at least, if you want people to get the right antivenom after they get bitten.

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). According to Hoser's proposed taxonomy, this is the only species that should be retained within the subgenus Crotalus of his restricted version of the genus Crotalus. Photo by Tad Arensmeier, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Has anybody, actually, yet become confused by the fact that spurious and problematic name changes have been suggested for any of these animals? After all, most working herpetologists have deliberately ignored and not used the names Hoser publishes in his articles. However, the Brazilian Society of Herpetologists adopted the new taxonomic arrangement for rattlesnakes suggested by Hoser (2009), and this had a knock-on effect in the Brazilian literature. As argued by Wüster & Bérnils (2011), Hoser’s taxonomic suggestions for rattlesnakes were redundant in the first place (they mostly involve subjectively sub-dividing an already monophyletic entity, namely Crotalus), are inconsistent with some published phylogenetic work, and are based on the assumption that certain parts of the phylogeny are resolved and ‘fixed’ for the foreseeable future. These are the technical problems; there are the additional ones related to the standing of Hoser’s articles in the first place (Wüster & Bérnils 2011). [Adjacent photo of Crotalus horridus by Tad Arensmeier.]

What to do? Quality control should be integral to taxonomic publications

The awesome Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox). Hoser suggests that this species be made the type species for his new genus Hoserea (named for his wife). Image by Gary Stolz, in public domain.

What can we actually do about this problem? Even the most lenient of liberal libertarians will agree that there’s a problem here: we clearly have an individual who isn’t using the same standards – or anything close to them – when publishing new names, and he’s insanely prolific to boot. What can we do? Well, that’s a problem. Given what I said above about taxonomic freedom and the Principle of Priority, it’s essentially impossible to use the ICZN to discount or dismiss or ignore or strike off names that have been published and which meet the basic criteria discussed above. Or is it?

The reason I’m writing about this issue now is that a group of working herpetologists have recently published a concise and very readable point-of-view piece on the subject in Herpetological Review (Kaiser et al. 2013). Note that the article is open access. Just to prove what a professional, ethical individual he is, Hoser previously published, in full, an unpublished version of this manuscript that was leaked to him (Hoser 2012h).

Proof that we secretly collude in order to stop Hoser's brilliant research being accepted by the masses: from left to right, Darren Naish, Helen Meredith, Wolfgang Wüster.

Predictably enough, Hoser (2013) has since published another article in which, over more than 60 pages, he responds in characteristic fashion to Kaiser et al. (2013), referring to them as “alleged scientists” and “serial liars” throughout; he even (for reasons best known to himself) keeps calling their article a “blog” (a blog is an updated, diary-style website: the word is not synonymous with ‘article’). Hoser’s 2013 article includes a full reprinting of the final formatted version of Kaiser et al. (2013) from Herpetological Review. Hm, something tells me you’re not allowed to do that. You’ll be pleased to hear that I get a brief mention: I’m referred to as a “serial spammer”, as “a close friend of [Mark] O’Shea” and also as someone guilty of promoting the Kaiser et al. article on twitter (Hoser 2013). Yup, guilty as charged, and proud of it (bar the erroneous “spammer” claim… again, does he know what the word in question actually means?). In fact, it’s worse: I’m also close friends with Wolfgang Wüster, and above you can see the proof (in reality, I’ve met Mark and Wolfgang on, respectively, one and one occasions, but… whatever).

The Lord Howe Island skink, currently known as Oligosoma lichenigera. However, Wells & Wellington (1984) give it the new generic name Vaderscincus. The etymology? "Named for Mr Darth Vader" (p. 104). Image (c) Mark Sanders.

Kaiser et al. (2013) is not specifically about Hoser, since there have been (and are) several other authors who also self-publish taxonomic revisions where there’s little to no evidence of appropriate scholarship. Kaiser et al. (2013) also write about Richard Wells who, since 2000, has named over 25 new genera and numerous taxa in another self-published publication called Australian Biodiversity Record. Wells is notorious in the world of Australian herpetology for publishing two lengthy catalogues (co-authored with Ross Wellington) that made an enormous number of taxonomic recommendations for Australian reptiles and amphibians, few if any of them justified or supported in the way that’s normal for new systematic decisions (Wells & Wellington 1983, 1985). [Adjacent photo of Lord Howe Island skink by Mark Sanders, from here on AROD.com.au.]

An attempt by a group of over 150 Australian herpetologists to get the ICZN to suppress the names published by Wells and Wellington was unsuccessful: the ICZN more or less says that groups of researchers, not the Commission itself, have to police such problem areas themselves. The entire case is fairly well known and has been summarised and discussed numerous times in the literature (Grigg & Shine 1985, King & Miller 1985, Tyler 1985, 1988, Thulborn 1986, Ingram & Covacevich 1988, Hutchinson 1988, Iverson et al. 2001, Williams et al. 2006).

With all of this in mind, Kaiser et al. (2013) argue that, basically, a measure of quality control is required if we’re to stop the literature being flooded with problem names appearing in unsatisfactory publications. The good news of course is that we already have exactly such a system: namely, peer review. It makes perfect sense that new taxa should only be named in those published works that make it through the normal scientific channels and Kaiser et al. (2013) strongly recommend that we introduce such a way of assessing the merits, or otherwise, of publications that include new taxonomic names. All published recommendations, as we’ve seen, are not created equal.

See all those pinkish boxes? This is the table of Hoser names (taking up more than 6 pages) compiled by Kaiser et al. (2013). See the paper for yourself: it's open access!

What about the Principle of Priority we looked at earlier? It’s well known that, in special cases, the ICZN will indeed rule against the use of certain names; the ICZN likes stability and the use of its rules, but it doesn’t like frivolity nor does it approve of new names that appear in non-technical publications. Kaiser et al. (2013) provide a long table in their paper that lists all the names that Hoser has published, together with their suggestions as to the recommended names that working herpetologists should use for the taxa in question. It is strongly advised that herpetologists boycott Hoser’s names and use the recommendations: it’s hoped that the ICZN will eventually rule against the use of Hoser names while putting aside the Principle of Priority. It has happened before.

Over the years, Hoser has had at least a bit of fair criticism (e.g., Aplin 1999, Wüster et al. 2001, Williams et al. 2006, Borrell 2007). He refers to those qualified herpetologists who criticise him and his work as “the truth haters”: the obvious implication being that he’s on the side of ‘The Truth’. Jeez, what is it with people on the fringes and their adherence to the notion that only they are seeing The Truth? Incidentally, Hoser frequently charges those of us who criticise him as ‘plagiarists’. In fact, he directed that specific charge at me after I wrote (unfavourably) about his crocodile article. Again, I can only conclude that he doesn’t know what the word really means.

Elsewhere in his life, Hoser’s constant battles with local law enforcement – a subject I’m not interested in here, of course – have led to his being found guilty of (and fined for) “scandalising the court”.

All due credit to Stevo Darkly.

Then there’s the fact that he’s developed a technique of pinning down unanaesthetised venomous snakes on a table and cutting out their venom ducts (Hoser 2004). These snakes have been extensively handled (often in front of crowds) and Hoser is more than happy to let the snakes bite his daughters in order to demonstrate how safe they are. As you’ll find out if you check the wikipedia page on Hoser, he’s been convicted and fined for demonstrating with venomous snakes in close proximity to the public and has also had his commercial wildlife demonstrator license suspended. Events are ongoing, with some dated to this month (June 2013). There are also the various, err, interesting videos online that show how Hoser interacts with female work experience students.

Hard-working amateurs should be encouraged to contribute to science, not shunned or admonished, and it has always been stated on every occasion that unaffiliated researchers have frequently done sterling work. Fortunately, individuals like Mr Hoser are extremely rare and their research efforts are mostly recognised as the unsatisfactory, non-technical and bizarrely idiosyncratic contributions that they are (if anybody doubts my characterisation of Hoser’s works, take a look yourself since they’re all available online: links to pdfs are below). Nevertheless, the issue of taxonomic vandalism needs to be appreciated as widely as possible, and hopefully curtailed altogether.

Hoser Taxonomy (as it’s known) has been mentioned or discussed on a few previous occasions on Tet Zoo. See…

Refs – -

Aplin, K. P. 1999. “Amateur” taxonomy in Australian herpetology – help or hindrance? Monitor 10 (2/3), 104-109.

Borrell, B. 2007. Linnaeus at 300: the big name hunters. Nature 446, 253-255.

Grigg, G. C. & Shine, R. 1985. An open letter to all herpetologists. Herpetological Review 16, 96-97.

Hoser, R. 2004. Surgical removal of venom glands in Australian elapid snakes: the creation of venomoids. The Herptile 29 (1), 36-52.

- . 2009. A reclassification of the rattlesnakes; species formerly exclusively referred to the genera Crotalus and SistrurusAustralasian Journal of Herpetology 6, 1-21.

- . 2012a. A new genus of Asian snail-eating snake (Serpentes: Pareatidae). Australasian Journal of Herpetology 12, 12-14. [NOTE: the pdf linked to here is for the whole of AJH 12, and hence includes the articles cited here as 2012b-f as well.]

- . 2012b. The dissolution of the genus Rhadinophis Vogt, 1922 (Serpentes: Colubrinae). Australasian Journal of Herpetology 12, 16-17.

- . 2012c. A new genus and new subgenus of snakes from the South African region (Serpentes: Colubridae). Australasian Journal of Herpetology 12, 23-25.

- . 2012d. A review of the South American snake genera Leptodeira and Imantodes including three new genera and two new subgenera (Serpentes: Dipsadidae: Imantodini). Australasian Journal of Herpetology 12, 40-47.

- . 2012e. A review of the North American garter snakes genus Thamnophis Fitzinger, 1843 (Serpentes: Colubridae). Australasian Journal of Herpetology 12, 48-53.

- . 2012f. A review of the taxonomy of the European colubrid snake genera Natrix and Coronella, with the creation of three new monotypic genera (Serpentes: Colubridae). Australasian Journal of Herpetology 12, 58-62.

- . 2012g. A review of the taxonomy of the living crocodiles including the description of three new tribes, a new genus, and two new species. Australasian Journal of Herpetology 14, 9-16.

- . 2012h. Robust taxonomy and nomenclature based on good science escapes harsh fact-based criticism, but remains unable to escape an attack of lies and deception. Australasian Journal of Herpetology 14, 37-64.

- . 2013. The science of herpetology is built on evidence, ethics, quality publications and strict compliance with the rules of nomenclature. Australasian Journal of Herpetology 18, 2-79.

Hutchinson, M. N. 1988. Comments on the proposed suppression for nomenclature of three works by R. W. Wells and C. R. Wellington. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 45, 145.

Ingram, G. J. & Covacevich, J. 1988. Comments on the proposed suppression for nomenclature of three works by R. W. Wells and C. R. Wellington. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 45, 52.

Iverson, J. B., Thomson, S. A. & Georges, A. 2001. Validity of taxonomic changes for turtles proposed by Wells and Wellington. Journal of Herpetology 35, 361-368.

Kaiser, H., Crother, B. I., Kelly, C. M. R., Luiselli, L., O’Shea, M., Ota, H., Passos, P. Schleip, W. & Wüster, W. 2013. Best practices: in the 21st Century, taxonomic decisions in herpetology are acceptable only when supported by a body of evidence and published via peer-review. Herpetological Review 44, 8-23.

King, M. & Miller, J. 1985. Letter to the editor. Herpetological Review 16, 4-5.

Pyron, R. A., Burbrink, F. T., Colli, G. R., Montes de Oca, A. N., Vitt, L. J., Kuczynski, C. A. & Wiens, J. J. 2011. The phylogeny of advanced snakes (Colubroidea), with discovery of a new subfamily and comparison of support methods for likelihood trees. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 58, 329-342.

Thulborn, T. 1986. Taxonomic tangles from Australia. Nature 321, 13-14.

Tyler, M. J. 1985. Nomenclature of the Australian herpetofauna: anarchy rules OK. Herpetological Review 16, 69.

- . 1988. Comments on the proposed suppression for nomenclature of three works by R. W. Wells and C. R. Wellington. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 45, 152.

Wallach, V. & Wüster, W., Broadley, D. G. 2009. In praise of subgenera: taxonomic status of cobras of the genus Naja Laurenti (Serpentes: Elapidae). Zootaxa 2236, 26-36.

Wells, R. W. & Wellington, C. R. 1983. A synopsis of the Class Reptilia in Australia. Australian Journal of Herpetology 1, 73-129.

- . & Wellington, C. R. 1985. A classification of the Amphibia and Reptilia of Australia. Australian Journal of Herpetology, Suppl. Ser. 1, 1-61.

Williams, D., Wüster, W. & Fry, B. G. 2006. The good, the bad and the ugly: Australian snake taxonomists and a history of the taxonomy of Australia’s venomous snakes. Toxicon 48, 919-930.

Wüster, W. & Bérnils, R. S. 2011. On the generic classification of the rattlesnakes, with special reference to the Neotropical Crotalus durissus complex (Squamata: Viperidae). Zoologia 28, 417-419.

- ., Bush, B., Keogh, J. S., O’Shea, M. & Shine, R. 2001. Taxonomic contributions in the “amateur” literature: comments on recent descriptions of new genera and species by Raymond Hoser. Litteratura Serpentium 21, 67-79, 86-91.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. ectodysplasin 8:26 pm 06/20/2013

    Back to Hoser. I don’t mean to denigrate Mr Hoser’s research abilities, experience with snakes and other reptiles, or intelligence.

    Well, if you won’t, I will. As a hobbyist, Hoser is abominable. He primarily keeps elapids that have been defanged and which have had the venom glands surgically removed, a procedure he does himself and with no anaesthesia for the animal. This is animal abuse.

    Furthermore, he then places these animals in the hands of people (including children) with no knowledge about venomous snakes and venomous snake handling. This is worse than it sounds. Venom glands in “venomoid” snakes typically do regenerate if part of the gland remains intact, and replacement teeth grow if the successional lamina isn’t completely destroyed, so some of these snakes are both venomous and capable of delivering that venom into an unsuspecting person.

    Hoser is a blight on both herpetology and herpetoculture.

    Link to this
  2. 2. JAHeadden 9:11 pm 06/20/2013

    “[1] Due to the large number of works produced by Raymond Hoser in 2012 (N = 45), we continued the enumeration of citations by beginning the alphabet anew. Thus, in addition to Hoser (2012a–z), 19 additional references exist (Hoser 2012aa–as).”

    Is the word “prolific” really apt? A new adjective, hyperprolific, might serve.

    Link to this
  3. 3. THoltz 9:21 pm 06/20/2013

    Perhaps the old Darwinian “superfecundity” might be used? After all, that might be the justification for his approach: produce more taxonomic “offspring” than can possibly survive, and a few might make it to maturity.

    Link to this
  4. 4. David Marjanović 9:41 pm 06/20/2013

    binomial (or binominal)

    The former is from Greek nomos, “law”. The latter is from Latin nomen, “name”.

    many of the key ideas that we typically associate with the publication of scientific research – like standards of practise, an appropriate level of scholarship, and peer review –

    Peer review is a very new thing. Manuscripts submitted to many small journals in… at least mainland Europe were only reviewed by the editor till close to the end of the 20th century.

    I’m contractually obliged to mention here that the PhyloCode will require peer review for every nomenclatural act.

    Just to prove what a professional, ethical individual he is, Hoser previously published, in full, an unpublished version of this manuscript that was leaked to him (Hoser 2012h).

    Gah.

    a blog is an updated, diary-style website: the word is not synonymous with ‘article’

    Many people confuse “blog” and “blog post”. I guess there’s a large overlap with those people who, like Merkel, believe that “for all of us the Internet is unexplored territory”…

    bar the erroneous “spammer” claim… again, does he know what the word in question actually means?

    LOL. #Neuland

    Incidentally, Hoser frequently charges those of us who criticise him as ‘plagiarists’. In fact, he directed that specific charge at me after I wrote (unfavourably) about his crocodile article. Again, I can only conclude that he doesn’t know what the word really means.

    INCONCEIVABLE!

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  5. 5. David Marjanović 9:44 pm 06/20/2013

    After all, that might be the justification for his approach: produce more taxonomic “offspring” than can possibly survive, and a few might make it to maturity.

    I was going to say!

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  6. 6. AlHazen 11:00 pm 06/20/2013

    Would it help if (at the A.G.M. of some appropriate society, perhaps?) a WHOLE BUNCH of PROMINENT herpetologists signed a joint statement about how
    -Hoser is a hoser,
    -his names are vandalism, and (most importantly)
    -they will all IGNORE (and urge their colleagues and students to ignore) anything that comes from him
    and then PUBLISH this public letter in some PROMINENT herpetological journal?
    The problem with making rules (or getting the rule-making body– the ICZN, I guess, in this case) is that you can’t imagine in advance just how perverse people will be, so you can’t provide for everything: what’s needed here is … a social norm, a CONVENTION, among herpetologists that Hoserian names are to be ignored. And visibly publishing a statement by community leaders might be enough to get such a convention started.

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  7. 7. Stewart Macdonald 12:40 am 06/21/2013

    AlHazen, that’s exactly the purpose of the Kaiser et al. (2013) paper that Darren mentions above.

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  8. 8. paalexan 1:42 am 06/21/2013

    “If these taxonomic recommendations and proposals were valid, they would make Hoser a more significant taxonomic force than most of the great explorer-herpetologists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Unlike those great people, however, Hoser’s naming typically seems amazingly slapdash.”

    Well… that comparison doesn’t really reflect too badly on Hoser. In the 20th century things did improve dramatically–but most of our binomials and most of our taxonomic explorers predate the 20th century, and taxonomic standards prior to 1910 or so were generally appalling. OK, I’m a botanist and maybe (I strongly doubt it, but maybe) things were different in the zoological world. In botany, at least, providing vague or downright useless diagnoses, failing to unambiguously designate a type specimen, publishing in a self-published journal–these were all common practices. Mixing openly derogatory statements with taxonomic proposals was unusual, but not unheard of (Linnaeus was a notorious ass and in American botany Marcus E. Jones provided numerous entertaining examples).

    Mind you, Hoser’s work is awful by modern standards… but so was most of the taxonomic work done by the “greats” of previous eras. Comparing Hoser to them is letting him off easy.

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  9. 9. JAHeadden 2:31 am 06/21/2013

    Moser does not seem to like you, Darren. That may be a teensy bit of an understatement.

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  10. 10. Christopher Taylor 2:36 am 06/21/2013

    The problem with making rules (or getting the rule-making body– the ICZN, I guess, in this case) is that you can’t imagine in advance just how perverse people will be, so you can’t provide for everything

    Indeed, the main hurdle facing the ICZN in dealing with the Raymond Hosers of the world is how to phrase any rules in such a way that they don’t cause more problems than they solve. For instance, I’m personally a bit wary of any suggestion that only peer-reviewed publications should be acceptable, because ‘peer review’ can be a slippery concept to define, and individual researchers may differ on whether a given work counts as ‘peer reviewed’. Even legitimate researchers may not be above some pretty perverse behaviour at times.

    In botany, at least, providing vague or downright useless diagnoses, failing to unambiguously designate a type specimen, publishing in a self-published journal–these were all common practices.

    I’ve often wondered if anyone has written a history of the ‘type specimen’ concept, because I think it could be a fascinating subject. Modern taxonomy is a far broader subject, covering a much wider geographical range and exponentially larger number of taxa, than those 18th and 19th Century biologists ever dreamed possible. Taxonomists learnt (and are still learning) through trial and error (mostly error) what the necessities are for a reliable taxon concept. Hoser and his ilk are simply refusing to learn from the mistakes of the past.

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  11. 11. ectodysplasin 2:45 am 06/21/2013

    With any name, the only thing that will serve to establish the name in the literature is whether the community in general accepts the name and uses it. Priority or not, if no one uses Hoser names, then Hoser can invent all the “new species” he wants, but it’s not going to matter.

    Hoser names: not even once.

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  12. 12. David Marjanović 6:14 am 06/21/2013

    In botany, at least, providing vague or downright useless diagnoses, failing to unambiguously designate a type specimen, publishing in a self-published journal–these were all common practices.

    It was quite similar in zoology. Peer review didn’t exist, many people published in their in-house journals; type specimens are a fairly new concept, and some well-known species still don’t have any (…does Crocodylus niloticus have one now, and if not, how can anyone tell which species is C. niloticus and which is C. suchus?) or have an illustration serving as the type; descriptions were commonly devoid of illustrations, and the text was short, too; I can’t tell how useless the diagnoses were at the time, because I’m only used to Mesozoic dinosaurs, and there the problem of “obsolescent characters” is rampant (for example, the original diagnostic characters of the two vertebrae called Titanosaurus indicus are, IIRC, shared by most of all of Titanosauria, of which T. indicus was the first to be discovered).

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  13. 13. David Marjanović 6:24 am 06/21/2013

    Oh, speaking of crocodile nomenclature: before 1766, when he (ostensibly his student Österdam) described Siren lacertina, Linnaeus lumped all salamanders & newts into the single species Lacerta salamandra and all crocodylians into the single species Lacerta crocodilus. Apparently, people have determined that what he was looking at when he described L. crocodilus was a caiman, so this species name is now borne by Caiman crocodilus – it’s not one of the default crocodylians (Crocodylus niloticus or C. suchus) for a European to consider, it’s not even a member of what soon became the genus Crocodylus, or for that matter of Crocodylidae. This is so bizarre that C. crocodilus is called “Krokodilkaiman” in German, implying that it’s particularly similar to a crocodylid, which (AFAIK) isn’t even the case and is not the derivation of the scientific name.

    Besides, Linnaeus wasn’t always looking at any specimens when he described a species. Lacerta caudiverbera has turned out to be wholly fictitious, but up until a few years ago the name Caudiverbera caudiverbera was used for a frog (!!!) that is now called Calyptocephalella gayi because that’s what people thought the name was intended to refer to.

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  14. 14. naishd 7:51 am 06/21/2013

    Great comments, thanks everyone. Apparently there’s a response to this article on one of Hoser’s facebook pages, accusing me of being a serial liar and such. I haven’t seen it yet.

    Anyway… in view of the noted sloppiness of various of the 19th and 20th century zoologists (and other biologists) I was sort of alluding to in the main text (see comment # 8 and others), I’ve tweaked accordingly. Doesn’t change the main point.

    Darren

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  15. 15. Perisoreus 11:39 am 06/21/2013

    comment #8 (paalexan)

    Mind you, Hoser’s work is awful by modern standards… but so was most of the taxonomic work done by the “greats” of previous eras. Comparing Hoser to them is letting him off easy.

    No, it’s not, but it’s ahistorical. Linné had good reasons not to designate type specimens or providing helpful diagnosis – first of all, because no one had thought about it at that time and it wouldn’t happen until about a century later. I’ve alays felt that measuring the past against today will never provide any substantial insights. Hoser, however, is publishing now, not at the end of the Baroque. He could know better.

    Comment #10 (Christopher Taylor)

    I’ve often wondered if anyone has written a history of the ‘type specimen’ concept, because I think it could be a fascinating subject. Modern taxonomy is a far broader subject, covering a much wider geographical range and exponentially larger number of taxa, than those 18th and 19th Century biologists ever dreamed possible. Taxonomists learnt (and are still learning) through trial and error (mostly error) what the necessities are for a reliable taxon concept. Hoser and his ilk are simply refusing to learn from the mistakes of the past.

    Yes, there are some publications from the fields of history of biology and science and technology studies. Lorraine Daston (2004, http://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F427306) has written a highly interesting paper on type specimens in Botany which I have happily exploited for the German Wikipedia article on type specimens. There are some other publications on taxonomy from that field, I could dig out some more, if you want. But I think Daston’s paper is a good starting point if you want to explain the importance of type specimens to laypersons.

    I actually fear that zoology has not emphasized enough how much work there is behind a name. Whenever I take a look into the newspaper, I read about species being “discovered”, as if they had only waited for some biologist to come by and lift the cover under which they were hiding. And it once more proves to me that theoretical biologists have to stop arguing about the existence of species and start to engage in the usefulness of a certain species or species concept compared to another.

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  16. 16. Heteromeles 1:42 pm 06/21/2013

    The sad part (he says, cackling) is that, AFAIK, once a name has been overturned, it can never be used again. Ultimately, Hoser’s names will all be buried. If he wants to be immortalized, this is, most definitely, the wrong way for him to do it. Not that I think he wants to be immortal.

    Still, since he’s so prolific, I’d suggest that somebody get subscriptions to his journals, and post them online in some sort of taxonomic BOLO list, akin to a “Be On the Look-Out” for new and crappy names. Simply point out that the author of this list is known for his dubious methods, and that all such names should be considered suspect unless and until they are widely used by taxonomists other than Hoser. It might even be possible to semi-automate such a system (or at least use undergrads–possibly as the “bad taxonomy” section in a taxonomy course?) to make such work go faster.

    This is an unofficial effort, but it’s primarily aimed at conservation managers and government databases. The point is to make it so that Google searches on particular Hoser genera will hit warnings about the problems with those genera long before they get to Hoser’s own work. After all, they won’t know any better, unless the herpetological community undertakes the work of enlightening them.

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  17. 17. Jurassosaurus 1:57 pm 06/21/2013

    Darren why did you italicize Hoser’s names? Given that they are all based on sloppy standards, and that no one (save some confused Brazilians at the BSH) takes them seriously, wouldn’t it be better to leave the names styleless? This would help send the message that these taxa are not recognized by practicing scientists.

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  18. 18. Perisoreus 2:28 pm 06/21/2013

    comment #16 (Heteromeles)

    Still, since he’s so prolific, I’d suggest that somebody get subscriptions to his journals, and post them online in some sort of taxonomic BOLO list, akin to a “Be On the Look-Out” for new and crappy names. Simply point out that the author of this list is known for his dubious methods, and that all such names should be considered suspect unless and until they are widely used by taxonomists other than Hoser. It might even be possible to semi-automate such a system (or at least use undergrads–possibly as the “bad taxonomy” section in a taxonomy course?) to make such work go faster.

    I don’t know if this is a good idea. Hoser seems to have a limited understanding of taxonomy, and one of the reasons his names will probably fail is that they’re hardly available – not in terms of priority, but in terms of access: You can’t really look up his DNA or his specimens and you have to buy his crappy journal since no sane librarist will put it into the shelves.

    That’s one of the reasons his names are so unpopular and why they’re unlikely to get used by others. What the Brazilians did, however, wasn’t very helpful, I think, because it made those names accessible for a wider public and therefore increased the propability of them being used by others. Besides, I think that would be a waste of taxonomy students, they’re simply too valuable.

    It’s a shame (but only for him) that he’s not really bright: If his journal had a huge circulation, he would be a major taxonomical player, and be it only among laypersons. If he’d instead provide half-decent names and diagnoses, he could make a nice living of his overpriced journal. But the way he’s acting now it’s not too hard to just ignore him.

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  19. 19. Heteromeles 3:19 pm 06/21/2013

    @Perisoreus: you may be right. I’d argue for the contrary that some people learn how to do things right by correcting bad examples. Since he’s the premiere supplier of bad information, perhaps this can be put to the simultaneous use of teaching students good technique (through correcting his errors) and serve as a crude form of anti-spam for taxonomy as a whole.

    That’s actually the bigger problem: Hoser’s spamming the system. While I’m not interested in being overly alarmist, the history of spam on the internet suggests that merely ignoring it won’t make the problem go away. We live in an era where species names have political and financial meaning, through CITES, issues of patent protection, and similar. I’ve got an evil mind, so I already figured out a couple of ways that some amoral person could spam taxonomists for fun and profit. Hoser’s bush league, compared with what some smuggling operation may try to do if they want to make it possible to import rare species under a cloud of taxonomic uncertainty, or tie up all research in a field in a maze of conflicting international patents.

    This is the biggest problem, and I’m going to put it in all caps because it needs to be taught in every taxonomy program in the world: TAXONOMISTS ARE NOT THE END USERS OF THEIR DATA! Those end-users include other scientists (everyone from ecologists to biomedical researchers), conservation managers, environmentalists (who are the primary public monitors of the system) and law enforcement officers, none of whom are expert taxonomists themselves.

    Unfortunately for all of us, taxonomists are the guardians of the system’s backbone. Therefore they have to be the anti-spam agents. I agree that all taxonomy students are precious. Because they are so precious, I strongly discourage every taxonomist from keeping them cloistered. Let them see the dark side too.

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  20. 20. Halbred 3:40 pm 06/21/2013

    It sounds like Hoser may have a few screws loose apart from (but contributing to) his taxonomic adventures. And yes, what IS IT about fringe lunatics who think they have direct access to The Truth and that all you other mouth-breathers are out to suppress me and bury it (it being The Truth)? Isn’t that a symptom of deep-seated paranoia?

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  21. 21. PeterMudde 5:15 pm 06/21/2013

    Would that be a herpetology -thing?
    In poison-dart-frogs we have to deal with a lot of names, that are coined by another self publishing amateur (Luc Bauer), who was out just to construct names. f.i Ranitomeya was constructed to contain “all little red frogs” and to honor his friend Tomey. It would have been forgotten hadn’t another amateur dug them up (Walsh in Poison Frogs – jewels of the rain forest) which forced scientist reorganising the Dendrobatids to use them. Now they are commonly used in scientific literature. Such can happen..

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  22. 22. Jerzy v. 3.0. 6:38 pm 06/21/2013

    Well, you curiously made me feel sympathy to Mr Hoser.

    Just some points:
    1. If some of his descriptions lack diagnostic characters or type specimens are unavailable for DNA testing, they would be easily overturned as nomen nudum, I guess.

    2. That some names are ridiculous, some species invalid, or that he lets snakes bite his daugther, does completely nothing to invalidate his OTHER descriptions by extension. Please stick to valid arguments here.

    3. I notice that mainstream taxonomists themselves started the trend by splitting “too inclusive” species and genera into smaller ones.

    4. As much as “serious” scientists hate it, there appeared a large number of amateurs who can do their job of finding, studying and describing species. Actually, such amateurs existed all the time in the history. Maybe the whole profession is facing a shake up?

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  23. 23. Jerzy v. 3.0. 6:39 pm 06/21/2013

    ?? numina nuda? It is Friday night here!

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  24. 24. ectodysplasin 7:18 pm 06/21/2013

    @Jerzy,

    4. As much as “serious” scientists hate it, there appeared a large number of amateurs who can do their job of finding, studying and describing species. Actually, such amateurs existed all the time in the history. Maybe the whole profession is facing a shake up?

    I don’t think the issue is amateurs. The issue is that Hoser’s not actually doing any work. He’s taking other people’s phylogenies, and arbitrarily drawing lines on those trees with the express purpose of attaching the names of his friends and family to those phylogenies. He’s not assigning type specimens in many cases, he’s not visiting museum collections and working with wet specimens and/or skeletal preparations and/or molecules and/or anything else in order to prepare rigorous diagnoses. If Hoser was “doing the work” then it would be fair to characterize posts like Darren’s and others as sour grapes, but anyone who’s read even one of Hoser’s papers knows that he’s not doing any work.

    There are many, many, many avocational scientists out there who produce significant and rigorous contributions to the science. This is a Good Thing. The more perspectives, the better. The more ideas, the better. The more pairs of eyes, the better.

    The problem is that Hoser is not producing anything but names. He is not doing research, and he’s not reporting research. He’s just throwing shit at the wall with the hopes that some of it will stick, and at this point he’s probably just doing it out of spite.

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  25. 25. paalexan 1:26 am 06/22/2013

    22. Jerzy v. 3.0:

    “2. That some names are ridiculous, some species invalid, or that he lets snakes bite his daugther, does completely nothing to invalidate his OTHER descriptions by extension. Please stick to valid arguments here.”

    I believe Darren is simply sticking to some illustrative and humorous examples. Hoser’s work is uniformly crap–the stuff mentioned in this article is not just a few odd examples. His OTHER descriptions are invalidated by the fact that every last one of them includes the same level of shoddy work, not through mere guilt-by-association.

    However, documenting that thoroughly is the work of far more than one blog post. As mentioned, Hoser is quite prolific. He seems to work under the “Gish gallop” model–if you make enough mistakes, no debunker will never catch up with you.

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  26. 26. paalexan 1:35 am 06/22/2013

    15. Perisoreus:

    “No, it’s not, but it’s ahistorical. Linné had good reasons not to designate type specimens or providing helpful diagnosis – first of all, because no one had thought about it at that time and it wouldn’t happen until about a century later. I’ve alays felt that measuring the past against today will never provide any substantial insights. Hoser, however, is publishing now, not at the end of the Baroque. He could know better.”

    Agreed. I did not mean to suggest that comparing scientific work across different eras was appropriate–only that *if* you do this, Hoser’s work looks OK compared to earlier standards, while the work of earlier taxonomists looks pretty bad by modern standards. Obviously taxonomists working a century or more ago can hardly be faulted for not working with the same rigor we do now, while Hoser *can*.

    I will say, though, that while I can’t blame long-dead taxonomists for not adhering to modern standards, I sure can be frustrated by it. “Come on, Edward L. Greene, just tell me what the #)*%&$*ing *type* was!” :-)

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  27. 27. Perisoreus 4:40 am 06/22/2013

    comment #26 (paalexan)

    I will say, though, that while I can’t blame long-dead taxonomists for not adhering to modern standards, I sure can be frustrated by it. “Come on, Edward L. Greene, just tell me what the #)*%&$*ing *type* was!”

    I’m sure every single taxonomist will sign that :) And when I just think of such “great” figures as Henry Ogg Forbes who simply plundered the Canterbury Museum and never sent any of that stuff back or Meinerzhagen’s bold lies and thefts … is there anything compared to that in botany, by the way? At least you can (or have to) take an illustration as a type if there’s no specimen left.

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  28. 28. naishd 5:42 am 06/22/2013

    Jerzy (comment # 22): fer chrissakes, have you read any of Hoser’s articles?

    Darren

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  29. 29. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:01 am 06/22/2013

    No I didn’t, but if they are half as bad as you say, no problem about them – despite naivety, they are impossible to use.

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  30. 30. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:07 am 06/22/2013

    But I still think Hose in some aspects is simply showing that current taxonomy went wrong in some aspects.

    When I see West African Crocodile given a genus name, I automatically think about the primate volume of the Handbook of Mammals of The World, where tens of subspecies of lemur, tarsier and monkey were elevated to species, species to genera etc., and color plates show rows of identical or almost identical creatures.

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  31. 31. Hai~Ren 9:41 am 06/22/2013

    So, is there a way to get rid of ‘Broghammerus’ once and for all? I know it was formally described by Rawlings et al. (2008), but still… suppressing ALL of Hoser’s names, even if some of his taxonomic vandalism is borne out by subsequent proper research, might be a way to shut him out until he actually cleans up his act (if he ever does so).

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  32. 32. boudidris 11:53 am 06/22/2013

    Ok, so one thing that is being overlooked in the discussion here is the idiosyncratic taxonomic practice of tracking all papers and taxonomic actions. Should I name a species in the genus Crotalus* I would have to list and cite all of the various genus-level names provided previously for the genus, including Hoser’s “Hoserea.”* Similarly, I would be expected to list all of the species-level synonyms, homonyms, etc., of any species I redelimit or redescribe in my work, meaning that I’d have to cite all of Hoser’s bizarre subspecies of Leiopython albertisi. The fact is that, as much as we would like to ignore “rogue ‘taxonomists,’” we are stuck with their “legacy” of (garbage) articles.

    *Note 1: I won’t;
    Note 2: His Hoserea ought to have been formulated as Hoserae.

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  33. 33. ectodysplasin 12:18 pm 06/22/2013

    @paalexan:

    I will say, though, that while I can’t blame long-dead taxonomists for not adhering to modern standards, I sure can be frustrated by it. “Come on, Edward L. Greene, just tell me what the #)*%&$*ing *type* was!”

    In some cases, that’s what assignment of a neotype is for. There’s almost always a general understanding of which animal that name describes, and if no type exists, you simply petition for a neotype to be established. Not the worst thing ever.

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  34. 34. ectodysplasin 1:26 pm 06/22/2013

    On twitter, someone complained that Hoser’s being targeted for personal attacks. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Scientists who work with live animals have to adhere to strict standards for animal care. The fact that Hoser brazenly disregards any sort of veterinary standard for animal care. You can read Hoser’s description of his operation procedures here. This is pretty gruesome stuff.

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  35. 35. Heteromeles 3:13 pm 06/22/2013

    I’m sure every single taxonomist will sign that :) And when I just think of such “great” figures as Henry Ogg Forbes who simply plundered the Canterbury Museum and never sent any of that stuff back or Meinerzhagen’s bold lies and thefts … is there anything compared to that in botany, by the way? At least you can (or have to) take an illustration as a type if there’s no specimen left.

    I’m not sure botanists have been quite so bad, an we certainly haven’t risen to the level of Cope and Marsh. Still, there have been a few soap operas. The worst one I recall, off-hand, is when someone deliberately created an invalid name in the genus Arctostaphylos for Alice Eastwood. She was the doyenne of research in that group, and because some (likely misogynist) joker had deliberately created A. eastwoodae in a way that would be synonmyized out of existence, he prevented any of her favorite plants from being named after her. One of the most abundant California manzanitas (A. glandulosa) is still commonly called the Eastwood manzanita, but that’s as far as she can be honored.

    Personally, after my experience in grad school, I wanted to find a fungus that parasitized my advisor’s favorite group, just so I could name it after him. I’m sure many grad students have had similar thoughts.

    If you want to look at botanists’ thefts, look at how various historical plant hunters extracted various crops from their original homes. There’s a reason there are classes in economic botany more often than economic zoology…

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  36. 36. paalexan 3:58 pm 06/22/2013

    27. Perisoreus & 35. Heteromeles–

    I suspect some examples getting close to Cope & Marsh levels could probably be dug up from orchid taxonomy. With most plants, though, people don’t get excited enough for the situation to get really out of hand.

    “In some cases, that’s what assignment of a neotype is for. There’s almost always a general understanding of which animal that name describes, and if no type exists, you simply petition for a neotype to be established. Not the worst thing ever.”

    In botany there is very often not any general understanding of to which species a name applies–if nothing else, there are a lot more species and names to keep track of than in tetrapod zoology, so most names are by necessity obscure (I would assume entomology is even worse).

    But, yes, certainly unclearly specified or missing types can be sorted out without too much trouble. It’s just annoying, especially for curators whose collections may have a large number of possible types scattered across many families.

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  37. 37. paalexan 3:59 pm 06/22/2013

    Whoops. Forgot to attribute that quote in the comment above; I’m quoting and responding to 33. ectodysplasin…

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  38. 38. ectodysplasin 5:34 pm 06/22/2013

    @paalexan

    In botany there is very often not any general understanding of to which species a name applies–if nothing else, there are a lot more species and names to keep track of than in tetrapod zoology, so most names are by necessity obscure (I would assume entomology is even worse).

    It’s not a simple lectotype issue?

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  39. 39. Heteromeles 7:00 pm 06/22/2013

    Don’t forget about preservation issues. I know this affects both plants and animals, but some type specimens have been destroyed, either through war (WWII was not friendly to a number of important specimens, such as Peking Man and Brachiosaurus). Fires also cause problems. While I don’t know if any types were destroyed, some important early plant collections were destroyed when San Francisco burned in 1906 and when Avalon burned a few years later.

    Some herbarium type specimens have decayed, and while they might be useful for DNA studies, their loss of color and structure renders them fairly useless for morphological comparisons. In the fullness of time, we can expect this to happen to all type specimens, no matter how carefully they are cared for.

    One example of a diverted disaster occurred many years ago when UC Berkeley rebuilt what’s now the Valley Life Science Building, with the UC Herbarium in the lower level under a mid-level courtyard. There was one leak in that courtyard/roof, and it happened to be right over the cabinet where they kept all the type specimens segregated. It was quickly fixed.

    Still, I don’t think botany is in the same fix as entomology, where trays of sp. nov. and gen. nov. specimens lay waiting for someone to work on them. The LA Natural History Museum has (or had) a bunch of these specimens, collected on sites that have since been developed and are therefore lost. It was where the “human folly butterfly” (Philotes sonorensis extinctus) was named. Off-hand, I don’t know of any “ssp. extinctus” plants, but they may well be out there. The best place to look is plants collected from coastal areas that have since been developed.

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  40. 40. Vpanoptes 8:34 pm 06/22/2013

    Interesting article. For what it’s worth I would offer a comment on this section:
    “Then there’s the fact that he’s developed a technique of pinning down unanaesthetised venomous snakes on a table and cutting out their venom ducts (Hoser 2004).”
    I am not familiar with either Mr. Hoser or this article, but do recall that as early as the late 1960′s (and that may have occurred prior to this time) a local (Bakersfield, CA) magician/snake “showman” by the name of Al Robbins developed (I believe with a physician or possibly a veterinarian) a procedure he called a “venomductectomy” wherein a venomous species (usually a rattlesnake) was anesthetized with ether, an incision made through the labials, the venom duct removed and both ends sutured, and the incision closed. I observed this procedure on one occasion, which presumably worked (although I am not sure of its long-term efficacy). Thus, Mr. Hoser’s claim to have “invented” this procedure (if in deed it is the same) may need to be interpreted in light of this information.

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  41. 41. paalexan 4:12 am 06/23/2013

    38. ectodysplasin:

    “It’s not a simple lectotype issue?”

    Well, not a simple one, at least not in scope, but yes.

    Each name wouldn’t be too hard to track down and/or fix–at least, not for someone with expertise in the relevant group–but multiply that out by thousands of names with not nearly enough botanists to go around and it’s kind of a mess.

    To give an idea of the difference in scale, Darren states above that Hoser has named 25 new species in the last 12 years. The most prolific botanist in my part of the world named somewhere around 4400–and I know there are entomologists who make even this number seem puny. By comparison, Hoser is an insignificant blip and the problem of tracking down typifications and synonymies is trivial.

    Link to this
  42. 42. David Marjanović 9:21 am 06/23/2013

    And it once more proves to me that theoretical biologists have to stop arguing about the existence of species and start to engage in the usefulness of a certain species [definition?] or species concept compared to another.

    Several species concepts are useful for several different things. They have nothing in common except the word “species”, as far as I can tell.

    AFAIK, once a name has been overturned, it can never be used again.

    Depends on what you mean by “overturned”. If the name is on the Official List of Rejected Names, or if the publication it was coined in is on the Official List of Rejected Works, it’s dead, Jim. If it’s a junior homonym of an available name, it’s also dead. If it’s a junior objective synonym of an available name, that’s life, Jim, but not as we know it: if the available name turns out to be a junior homonym of something, this synonym comes back to life! And if it’s a junior subjective synonym of an available name, as most Hoser names are, it’s up to taxonomic freedom. The Code explicitly refuses to stop you from being a mad splitter.

    However, I agree with Kaiser et al. (2013) that most or all Hoser publications probably fall short of Article 8.1.1 and are therefore unavailable. In that case, there’s nothing there to overturn!

    He’s not assigning type specimens in many cases

    Oh. Buh-bye.

    “72.3. Name-bearing types must be fixed originally for nominal species-group taxa established after 1999. A proposal of a new nominal species-group taxon after 1999 (unless denoted by a new replacement name (nomen novum) [Arts. 16.4, 72.7]), must include the fixation of a holotype [Art. 16.4] (see Article 73.1) or syntypes [Art. 73.2]. In the case of syntypes, only those specimens expressly indicated by the author to be those upon which the new taxon was based are fixed as syntypes.”

    Boldface in the original, links to other Articles removed.

    But I still think Hose in some aspects is simply showing that current taxonomy went wrong in some aspects.

    Seriously, read his papers. Some of them are freely available at the links Darren has provided!

    In some cases, that’s what assignment of a neotype is for. There’s almost always a general understanding of which animal that name describes, and if no type exists, you simply petition for a neotype to be established. Not the worst thing ever.

    That doesn’t even require a petition “when no name-bearing type specimen (i.e. holotype, lectotype, syntype or prior neotype) is believed to be extant and an author considers that a name-bearing type is necessary to define the nominal taxon objectively”. The neotype of Apateon pedestris is an example you, ectodysplasin, are probably aware of; it did not involve a petition but is valid nonetheless.

    But see above: this does not apply to names (at species-group ranks) that were published in 2000 or later without designation of a type specimen.

    The worst one I recall, off-hand, is when someone deliberately created an invalid name in the genus Arctostaphylos for Alice Eastwood. She was the doyenne of research in that group, and because some (likely misogynist) joker had deliberately created A. eastwoodae in a way that would be synonmyized out of existence, he prevented any of her favorite plants from being named after her.

    :-o

    In zoology, you could probably petition the Commission to decide if this falls foul of Art. 8.1.1. Is there a similar article in the botanical Code?

    WWII was not friendly to a number of important specimens, such as Peking Man and Brachiosaurus

    …The type species of Brachiosaurus is B. altithorax, all specimens of which are in the US. Do you mean Giraffatitan brancai, housed here in Berlin and until recently referred to B.? I’m not aware of war damage to the contents of the bone basement*. Indeed, there are still unopened crates from before WWI.

    * As opposed to the outer walls of the building. Many of them still bear the bullet holes from WWII.

    The LA Natural History Museum has (or had) a bunch of these specimens, collected on sites that have since been developed and are therefore lost.

    Every workday I walk past a… former exhibit that shows a tiny part of a huge collection of butterflies from Colombia from the early 20th century. Many of them are from lowland rainforest that doesn’t exist anymore. Among the tens of thousands of specimens, there must be hundreds or thousands of new species, and many of them are probably extinct now. Nobody is working on that collection, for lack of money. Most of the butterflies are still in their paper bags in historical cigar boxes, with their wings folded.

    Thus, Mr. Hoser’s claim to have “invented” this procedure (if in deed it is the same) may need to be interpreted in light of this information.

    It’s not the same. As you quoted, Hoser does not anesthetize his snakes with ether or with anything at all.

    Link to this
  43. 43. David Marjanović 10:22 am 06/23/2013

    Oh.

    If the name is on the Official List of Rejected Names, or if the publication it was coined in is on the Official List of Rejected Works, it’s dead, Jim.

    Wrong: if the publication is Officially Rejected, the names in it do not compete for homonymy – so you’re free to coin the same name later, even for the same taxon.

    Also, there may not be an official index of such works; I can’t find it on the ICZN website. The Commission rejects works one by one.

    And under Art. 81 the Commission can overturn everything anyway.

    Link to this
  44. 44. Andreas Johansson 11:30 am 06/23/2013

    David Marjanović wrote:
    However, I agree with Kaiser et al. (2013) that most or all Hoser publications probably fall short of Article 8.1.1 and are therefore unavailable.

    How does one determine purpose in cases like this? Hoser would presumably claim to have intended to provide a public and permanent scientific record.

    Link to this
  45. 45. David Marjanović 2:10 pm 06/23/2013

    Well, the argument is that it looks a lot more like he intended to promote himself and slur everybody else…

    I don’t think the Commission has ever had to discuss “cases like this”, though.

    Link to this
  46. 46. vdinets 2:42 am 06/24/2013

    Jerzy: what the Primates volume of HMW actually shows is that the number of primate species on Madagascar should be lowered, not raised. Some coastal forms previously considered to be distinctive clearly have intermediate races in the interior.

    Link to this
  47. 47. Dartian 3:49 am 06/24/2013

    Jerzy, I don’t know if it’s any real point in even replying to your comments anymore since they seem to be deliberate attempts of provocation rather than genuine, good-faith discussion. But, just for the record:

    color plates show rows of identical or almost identical creatures

    They may look superficially “indentical” (to you, anyway), but in the case of the tarsiers, for example, some of them are molecularly much more different from each other than you are from a gorilla. They are certainly distinct species under any sensible species concept. Deal with that.

    Link to this
  48. 48. Dartian 4:01 am 06/24/2013

    “indentical”

    Bah, stupid typo!

    Heteromeles (comment #39):
    WWII was not friendly to a number of important specimens

    At the risk of going off-topic: Has anyone ever compiled a reasonably complete list of all the scientifically valuable biological material (e.g., type specimens) that was destroyed or lost during the Second World War in Europe and elsewhere? That would be an interesting (if depressing) read.

    Link to this
  49. 49. Heteromeles 11:50 am 06/24/2013

    @Dartian: It’s worth googling “type specimens lost in WW2.” I don’t see an overall list, but nine cactus types and 541 fish types were lost, along with the Spinosaurus aegypticus and Peking man fossils. I don’t see a more complete list yet, so I think you’ve got a good idea. In particular, I don’t know whether Japan housed any type specimens. If so, they were likely lost in the 1944-1945 firebombing.

    On the more positive side, see the Field Museum’s collection of Berlin negatives. Back in 1929, J. Francis MacBride went to the herbaria of Europe to photograph type specimens for US botanists who couldn’t afford to travel to see the originals. The Berlin-Dahlem herbarium was destroyed in WW2 (at least the pressed specimens were), so these photographs are the only records left for some types.

    Even more fortunately, the Field Museum keeps adding to this collection.

    Link to this
  50. 50. Jerzy v. 3.0. 2:09 pm 06/24/2013

    @47
    Dartian, check your sources. Outside 3 long recognized forms of tarsier, all the other ones are differentiated on localization, superficial morphology and acoustics. So they are so different from each other as I am from average African American, or native Sulawesi tribesman from Bornean tribesman.

    Link to this
  51. 51. Jerzy v. 3.0. 2:14 pm 06/24/2013

    @49
    That is why it is so good idea (already started by some museums, like Leiden Naturalis) to create digital archives of their most valuable specimens.

    Link to this
  52. 52. vdinets 2:17 pm 06/24/2013

    Jerzy: as much as I am convinced that most of recent primate splits have nothing to do with science, I have to admit that pygmy tarsier of Sulawesi highlands is really distinctive and should be split.

    Link to this
  53. 53. Jerzy v. 3.0. 2:18 pm 06/24/2013

    @50
    That is, unless there is some new information not included in HBW3.

    Speaking of gorillas – in HBW3 I cannot find another piece of info: hybridization between lowland and mountain gorillas, with gorillas ssp. graueri in particular having introgression of lowland genes into beringei genome. See:
    http://web.uct.ac.za/depts/age/people/AckBish10.pdf

    Link to this
  54. 54. Therizinosaurus 5:27 pm 06/24/2013

    “The worst one I recall, off-hand, is when someone deliberately created an invalid name in the genus Arctostaphylos for Alice Eastwood. She was the doyenne of research in that group, and because some (likely misogynist) joker had deliberately created A. eastwoodae in a way that would be synonmyized out of existence, he prevented any of her favorite plants from being named after her. One of the most abundant California manzanitas (A. glandulosa) is still commonly called the Eastwood manzanita, but that’s as far as she can be honored.”

    Surely it’d be easy to just use another spelling. Just name Arctostaphylos eastwood and claim officially eastwood is “composed arbitrarily” as allowed by ICBN Article 23.2. Then note unofficially it honors Alice and is irregularly formed due to a jerk trying to spite her.

    The ICBN should really just get rid of the rule demanding emmendation to improperly formed names like the ICZN largely did in 2000.

    Link to this
  55. 55. Heteromeles 6:45 pm 06/24/2013

    That might work. Too bad everyone currently working on Arctostaphylos (AFAIK) is currently male. It’s a lovely group to work on. One paper, less than a decade old, was based on phenetics, because, as the author noted, “It’s hard to do cladistics when you don’t have clades.” Since I’ve helped him collect, I can testify that he’s an extremely careful and thorough researcher, and this was not done out of ignorance or perversity.

    California Arctostaphylos hybridize like crazy. Most likely this group is undergoing an adaptive radiation, despite the fact that structurally some are small trees while others are ground mats, they aren’t reproductively isolated yet. This problem is hardly isolated to Arctostaphylos. Hawaiian tarplants are an even more extreme morphological examples, while the wheat tribe is even more notorious for hybridization across putative genera.

    Link to this
  56. 56. Raptormimus456 9:38 pm 06/24/2013

    I hadn’t heard of this, but seeing the nonsensical names and all, honestly I can’t seem to shake off the feeling that Hoser knows didley about squamatan or archosaurian classification. Possibly because he’s making actual reptile experts look like idiots, possibly because of his _horrible_ naming.

    Also;
    “Then there’s the fact that he’s developed a technique of pinning down unanaesthetised venomous snakes on a table and cutting out their venom ducts (Hoser 2004).”

    ……….

    How has he not been slammed for life with animal cruelty?

    “Trioanotyphlops”

    What in the hell does this even _mean_, if anything?

    I know “-ops” is eye, and “-tri” is three, but what the hell does that jumbled mess in the middle mean?

    “Katrinahoserserpenea”

    Does Hoser even _know_ how scientific nomenclature _works_?!

    In any case, I’ll parody him a bit, to try and make myself seem less like a clone of Naish.

    I propose we rename the Nile Crocodile “Odysupoleikotyranadon hoserii”, because that name is _far_ more sensible then whatever the hell “Crocodylus niloticus” means! :P

    But still, this joker seems less like a less hilarious Dave Peters and more like if David Peters was both horrible at nomenclature and cladistics _and_ abused animals.

    Link to this
  57. 57. Andreas Johansson 1:16 am 06/25/2013

    “Trioanotyphlops”

    What in the hell does this even _mean_, if anything?

    I know “-ops” is eye, and “-tri” is three, but what the hell does that jumbled mess in the middle mean?

    The -typhl- bit is greek for blind. No idea what -oan(o) means.

    Link to this
  58. 58. Dartian 2:40 am 06/25/2013

    Jerzy:
    check your sources

    I am the one who should check my sources?

    This is Darren’s blog, not mine, so I won’t respond to that the way I would really like to. I will just politely point out that during these last few years, I have had many, many exchanges with you over various issues here on Tet Zoo. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions when I have backed up my claims by providing you with references and citations (while you, far more often than not, have failed to do the same).

    The fact that you apparently never bother to look up and read those literature sources that you’ve been given probably shouldn’t surprise me anymore. It has, however, strengthened my conviction that trying to discuss with you about anything related to science is about as productive as talking to a wall.

    Link to this
  59. 59. Dartian 3:14 am 06/25/2013

    Heteromeles:
    It’s worth googling “type specimens lost in WW2.” I don’t see an overall list, but nine cactus types and 541 fish types were lost, along with the Spinosaurus aegypticus and Peking man fossils. I don’t see a more complete list yet, so I think you’ve got a good idea. In particular, I don’t know whether Japan housed any type specimens. If so, they were likely lost in the 1944-1945 firebombing.

    A list that’s both as taxonomically and as internationally complete as possible is what I’d like to see. Ideally, aside from type specimens I’d also like that list to include other scientifically significant specimens, and partial/entire collections, that were lost.

    Of course, compiling such a list would be a huge task for many reasons. One of the reasons being that, fortunately, every now and then some of the lost materials (or at least parts of them) are fortuitously rediscovered. That happened, for example, to the early* Homo sapiens sapiens skull from Combe Capelle that was stored in a museum in Berlin during the Second World War; until its rediscovery in 2001, it was presumed to have been destroyed in 1945.

    * After its rediscovery, the Combe Capelle skull was re-dated and it was shown that it’s actually much younger than previously believed – but that’s another story.

    Link to this
  60. 60. David Marjanović 7:36 am 06/25/2013

    Does Hoser even _know_ how scientific nomenclature _works_?!

    Unfortunately, yes. Nothing in this name is against the rules, not even the miracle that transforms “serpens” into “serpenea”. The rules are much, much laxer than you seem to think.

    Link to this
  61. 61. Jerzy v. 3.0. 3:24 pm 06/25/2013

    @Dartian
    Don’t get excited, HBW3 is on my desk ;) And I see there tarsier genetics concerning three long-established forms: Philippine, Bornean and Spectral, but nothing validating further sub-splits.

    Link to this
  62. 62. Jerzy v. 3.0. 4:51 pm 06/25/2013

    @ D, in any case I apologise if I made you annoyed.

    Link to this
  63. 63. Therizinosaurus 6:53 pm 06/25/2013

    “One paper, less than a decade old, was based on phenetics, because, as the author noted, “It’s hard to do cladistics when you don’t have clades.””

    Have botanists really not developed phylogenetic programs that can incorporate branches joining as well as splitting? Would seem like a necessary application for the world of plants.

    “But still, this joker seems less like a less hilarious Dave Peters and more like if David Peters was both horrible at nomenclature and cladistics _and_ abused animals.”

    At least Peters actually researches taxa and performs real work. Sure, the work’s often wrong and his understanding of many aspects of… everything is flawed, but he’s not just slapping names on other peoples’ cladograms. Hoser and Peters do both seem to share the persecution complex common to cranks though.

    Link to this
  64. 64. Heteromeles 8:24 pm 06/25/2013

    This was back when the NONA was new, and based on the data he had, I think phenetics and clustering analysis was the correct solution, because available cladistics programs were based on assumptions that were not supported by his data. Long story short, he was defining species as groups that had suites of characteristics that together isolated them from all other Arctostaphylos. He was trying to clear up a bunch of messy taxonomy by visiting many populations and determining what characters were, because earlier work had been based on fewer specimens and, in some cases, misidentifications or mistakes about traits.

    Certainly, it’s possible to do individual gene trees in massively hybridizing groups. In groups like the wheat tribe (remember that bread wheat is a hexaploid of three species from two genera, two species of Aegilops and one species of Triticum), it’s been possible to use gene trees to demonstrate where particular genes, chromosomes, and bits of genome came from.

    In terms of sorting out species boundaries, it’s much more messy. The Triticeae phylogram looks like a spider’s web, and I’m not sure anyone has enough data from Arctostaphylos to even begin sorting that mess out. Since Arctostaphylos has more putative species and far less commercial importance than the wheat tribe, I don’t think anyone is going to be doing that work any time soon.

    Lest you think this is unusual, has anyone checked oak phylogeny recently? I point that out only because oaks and wheatgrasses aren’t exactly uncommon in the northern hemisphere.

    Link to this
  65. 65. pemburung 9:17 pm 08/22/2013

    Here’s the problem. Hoser’s a generation on from Wells. But a lot of what Wells proposed, in similar fashion – complete with Darth Vader names – held up, or did so at least as well as previous taxonomic changes did until the still continually changing and subjective DNA tests became supreme. The question still looms – asides such as devenoming snakes, which are nothing to do with taxonomy and should be excluded here – is the understanding of biological difference and separation valid? Is it reasonably explorative, moving things forward? Names may be silly, but that’s not the point, and patronyms kowtowing to sponsors have been de rigeur since day one. Science is understanding, and is the understanding good?

    Link to this

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