How do we deal with the thousands of highly contested GLOVAP new combinations?

A bit as the title says. POWO appears to be capturing the thousands of highly contested new combinations of plant names self-published the year before last (2018) in GLOVAP.

For those of you that may not be familiar with it, this publication is of the type that causes people ot shout: “BL**DY TAXONOMISTS!” in frustration. It takes basically any clade for which there is previously published doubt or difficulty in resolving subclades, and uses the oldest published genus to create thousands (3822) of new combinations.

Most of the groups treated lack enough work, and many of them will eventually be resolved properly. For some of the reaction to this list, I add some links below. Suffice it to say the changes are ‘controversial’. Alas, they are also validly published, and even more sadly, appear to be in the process of adoption by POWO.

https://www.aspt.net/news-blog/2018/letter-re-glovap-from-aspt-leadership-to-society

https://ottawacitizen.com/technology/science/science-vandalism

https://www.researchgate.net/post/How_should_proposals_for_taxonomic_changes_for_vascular_plants_be_adequately_handled

On the one hand, a name is a name is a name, and as long as the taxon concepts are adequately covered, it does the job. On the other, iNaturalist is a platform primarily used by non-taxonomists, and this is a pretty sorry state of affairs to present people with.

Thoughts?

6 Likes

Yeah, this. Thanks for bringing it up. I had almost been able to forget about it, but sounds like POWO is not going to allow that to happen.

I guess my bottom line is, being a GLOVAP-sourced name would not, by itself, be sufficient reason to support deviating from POWO. But it would definitely be cause for further discussion before adopting. No doubt some percentage of the GLOVAP names actually make scientific sense, even if by accident.

Next question is, how do we get this issue in front of all iNat curators (only some of whom are on this forum), so someone doesn’t go merrily aligning everything with POWO totally unaware (or maybe totally aware) of the situation with these names?

I don’t have a ready-made answer for that one, short of convincing the developers to create a special software barrier based on the list of GLOVAP names, that prevent their use in taxon changes until approved by someone, staff or certain assigned curators maybe. Approval would be based on adequate prior discussion among the iNat community.

6 Likes

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new problem. Entomologists have been dealing with “taxonomic vandalism” for a couple decades now. Try mentioning Dewanand Makhan to a beetle or spider taxonomist and watch them cringe! This is the down side of the rise of amateur naturalists and vanity journals. Anyone that wants to can create as many new taxon names as they please with zero research and the names are technically just as valid as any others. Until the ICBN and ICZN take steps to address this problem (which may take another century or two), there’s not much we can do about it.

3 Likes

Some papers from 2006 and 2007 about Makhan’s extensive vandalism:
https://www.zobodat.at/pdf/KOR_77_2007_0038.pdf
http://www.bio-nica.info/biblioteca/Jach2006Coleoptera.pdf
And that was back when he was just getting started. iNaturalist has hundreds of bogus Makhan names in its taxonomic tree, most named after Makhan’s family and friends. They have no scientific value whatsoever.

3 Likes

Is there any way the existing names can be collated and a bulk addition to the notes section in the taxonomy framework document added indicating this taxa may be impacted by this issue and appropriate care taken before changes are done?

1 Like

i vote we just ignore it and reject all the changes. Not expecting that to happen, but FWIW.

1 Like

I’m not very familiar with this. Does it look like POWO is blindly accepting these changes? Or does it appear to be a selective process?

3 Likes

Well, I was about to ask a very similar question, does anyone have insight to why POWO is apparently implementing this? Do they feel they ‘have to’ because of the current ‘rules’ regarding nomenclature changes? Have they reviewed them and agree ? Do they see the effort as a competitor and are simply trying to remove them as a viable threat by absorbing their work?

I don’t think ignoring them is a controversial notion, it is more how do you ensure they stay ignored and are not accidentally implemented?

I’ve written before in discussions about the use of regional sources, primary literature etc that ‘published’ does not really mean what ‘published’ meant 10 or 20 years ago. Seems this is a very real world example.

4 Likes

Taxonomic vandalism (if this botanical example is really a case of that) is a growing problem in many fields of biology. This example is from herpetology:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/taxonomic-vandalism-and-hoser/

In this herp example, the new names need not be recognized (in all or most cases) based on ICZN rules. But in other cases, the new names can really complicate a synonymy.

1 Like

There will come a point when ignoring is not an option, when one of their name changes turns out later to make good taxonomic sense. So I agree, I would like to know

As for

My sense is that most if not all of the GLOVAP changes were not required for reasons of priority, effective or valid publication, or other nomenclatural rules. They were just mass taxonomic changes based on questionable criteria.

Why? We can decide to lock the taxonomy now and never change it again. Like i said i am not actually expecting that will happen, but i think it would be better for iNaturalist, botany, ecology, and the continued survival of the ecosphere than us chasing every paper and proposed new flora.

It just seems out of character for a site that seems at least to my eyes to get a lot of criticism here about not doing a good job of incorporating publications to choose this one to prioritize.

1 Like

Yeah I think that criticism is aging at this point – my impression is that they have been keeping up much better lately in general. So I’m more worried that the GLOVAP names may be getting accepted uncritically, not so much that might be getting undue priority.

1 Like

Just wanted to thank y’all for bringing this up on the Forum. As a new curator getting her feet wet in the world of taxonomy, and as a someone just starting her career in the field of Biology (where/what, exactly, to be determined…), it never even occurred to me that these sorts of problems existed.
Regardless of what policies will be decided for iNat, it’s good for me to hear various voices on what constitutes good/bad taxonomic practice.
At minimum, it makes me more determined to be thorough and accurate in my work (including getting peer review, whether I’d be hoping to be published or otherwise).

2 Likes

@zygy just curious if you are aware of any spiders in the inat database impacted by this. As the spider curator I have worked hard to try and ensure alignment to what is accepted in the World Spider Catalog. Right now that alignment is +99 percent to my knowledge, just a few major revisions from the 2nd half of 2019 that are still in progress as I find the time

1 Like

Wow, thank you to everyone who has chimed in!

It is difficult to know what process POWO undergo before they decide to accept or reject a change. I’m not involved in the process and so I can’t say for sure.

In Australia, where I work as a taxonomist, there is a process (APC - Australian Plant Census) to arrive at a consensus taxonomy, or the closest we can get to. Even dealing with a much smaller flora, and with a bunch of herbaria involved, it can take years to assess each taxon or proposed new combination, so I am doubtful that POWO have the resources to critically examine each change.

The rules exist to determine whether a name is validly published, and also which names take nomenclatural priority in the case when a taxon has more than one name. It concerns itself only with nomenclature, in regards to correctness.

I think in the case of GLOVAP the question is more one of taxonomy than of nomenclature. They have re-defined the taxonomic placement of thousands of taxa (moved them from one genus to another). This is a matter of opinion, and not one of whether a name is valid or not. In cases of taxonomy, it is generally usage and take-up of the new proposed classification that eventually decides what name we use for a taxon. Down here, for example, at some point it became obvious that the southern beeches were NOT so closely related to the northern beeches, and needed their own genus (Nothofagus), compared to their original genus (Fagus). There is general acceptance among botanists that this is the case (or even that this doesn’t go far enough but that’s another debate), and so the name Nothofagus cunninghamii is in general usage in Australia, in preference to Fagus cunninghamii, even though (as far as the Code is concerned), both are validly published names.

Many authors have published myriads of re-combinations of names, and many of these made relatively little sense, or add nothing of perceived value to the existing classification. In these cases, the new combinations have not generally been taken up by working taxonomists, and have sunk into relative obscurity, even though they’re often validly published names, and nomenclaturally correct.

Sorry to go into so much detail, but I think it’s important to draw the distinction between two separate issues: cases of validity/correctness, and those like this one, of opinion.

7 Likes

Seems like a no win situation. They take time to carefully review and get criticism for being slow to adopt ‘modern’ taxonomy. They push stuff quicker and get criticism for implementing stuff with limited support…

3 Likes

I’m not a botanist, but have seen such taxonomic shakeups in vertebrate biology although not on this scale. My impression is that botanists have to deal with a lot more synonyms and concurrent parallel taxonomic arrangements than do the vertebrate folks.

My personal feeling is that any new taxonomic arrangement should not be accepted until it is fully evaluated by the larger specialist community. But it seems since molecular techniques have become predominant, this “wait and see” approach has been discarded and any new arrangement is implemented rather too quickly in databases and checklists. Maybe an informal rule is needed in which a new arrangement has to be in print for at least a couple years before it is accepted by the larger community.

2 Likes

@cmcheatle - Yes, we have dozens of bogus Makhan spiders in iNaturalist, but so does the World Spider Catalog (as they are just following the ICZN rules). I have no idea what the solution is.

Has anyone tried to actively contact POWO? Their email is available here. According to their “About” page they encourage questions and feedback. I feel like it would provide some much needed insight.

3 Likes