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  Re: The Dark Side of Taxonomy, part II: The Empire Strikes Back!
From: John Grimshaw <john.grimshaw at zoology.oxford.ac.uk> on 1996.12.29 at 17:32:26(22)
I am glad to see that the devil's advocacy approach that I took had the
desired result of eliciting the reasoning for the proposed sinking of
Sauromatum into Typhonium. Now (and particularly when the paper
appears), we have information on which to base our own views, without having
to accept the blunt and rather dogmatic statement with which we were
originally presented.

On this evidence, the decision by Wilbert and Peter Boyce to
sink Sauromatum does indeed seem logical, and I can support it when
presented in these terms. Nobody else need do so, but you must come up
with equally valid reasons for maintaining them as separate genera, when
the two competing schemes would be assessed on their relative merits by
practising taxonomists.

Wilbert emphasises similarities and not differences in determining
phylogenies. Here, again, is a point where personal decisions come into
play. At what point do derived differences differentiate between taxa?
That there are DIFFERENCES between similar entities is the fundamental
basis of taxonomy; similarities are, of course, essential to detect
phyletic pathways in a group of organisms, but eventually it is the
differences that define the subsidiary taxa. In the situation under
discussion the question is, 'Has Sauromatum (perhaps only S. venosum)
sufficient differences (of whatever character) to be maintained as a
distinct genus, or are the differences slighter than the similarities,
justifying its inclusion in Typhonium?' Wilbert and Peter choose the
latter: can anyone else do better?

If the evidence (morphological and molecular - and I can assure Wilbert
that I am very well aware of the dangers and uses of molecular taxonomy)
is so strongly in favour of the sinking, then it is surely wrong and
inconsistent to propose Sauromatum venosum as a name for conservation. If
it IS a Typhonium it MUST be called a Typhonium - to have a stray
Not-really-Sauromatum (Ought-to-be Typhonium) situation is poor science
and serves neither horticulture nor botany. If a change in specific name
was required because (e.g.) an obscure synonym was discovered to have
priority, then there would be valid grounds for conservation of the
widely known name, but to knowingly conserve and perpetuate an incorrect
genus should not be acceptable.

John Grimshaw

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