[Coral-List] Shifting baselines

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Wed Sep 18 19:58:37 EDT 2013

     The names of species are not determined by lawyers.  Species names are
part of free speech, anyone can call any species anything they want.  Those
sorts of names are called "common names" and they are different in every
language.  Scientific names are also voluntary.  There is no central
authority that assigns names or decides which names are correct, and the
names have no legal standing, no lawyers have any jurisdiction to tell
anyone what any species name is.
      Scientific names are all part of a voluntary system, first started by
Linneus.  He came up with a set of rules, the most important of which may
be that the first name applied to a species in a way that follows the
rules, is the correct name.  There are some other rules, like the name has
to be Latinized but can be based on any word in any language, and other
rules.  The rules have developed into a set of rules for animals (Code of
Zoological Nomenclature) and another for plants (maybe one for bacteria).
The rules are decided by a group of taxonomists.  One of the goals is to
try to minimize the frequency with which names that are commonly used are
changed, and to maximize clarity.  Scientists voluntarily follow the rules
most of the time, because they want the new names of species they discover
to be used by other people, and they must follow the rules for others to
use their names instead of making up their own names.  It is to your
advantage to follow the system.  A lot of judgement is involved, based on
observations, data, etc, in deciding whether two names refer to the same
species or not.  Taxonomists sometimes agree, sometimes don't.  Lawyers are
not involved.  Like all science, some of it is university funded, some
government funded with tax dollars (such as through the National Science
Foundation in the U.S., a highly competitive process to get grants, to say
the least).  Funding support for taxonomy is miserably low, I know of just
3 reef coral taxonomists in the world whose work is funded, and that
actually might be only 2.  Not a single one in the USA.  So your pocketbook
isn't being raided to finance platoons of scientists driving Rolls Royces.
      Try doing any biological work without species names.  Most biologists
take them for granted.  They get them free.  But without them,
communication between scientists would be a lot more difficult.  For a
pittance in money, the scientific community has names to communicate with.
      The Endangered Species Act process for corals may well have
intervention by lawyers, in fact it already has.  But to my knowledge, the
lawyers were not suing over coral species names, but rather over broader
questions.  Not that there aren't real questions about coral species and
what names should be used, and limited information, and so on.
       There is a cost for agencies like NMFS (National Marine Fisheries
Service) and FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) to process the petitions for
endangered species status.  FWS gets the vast majority of the petitions,
and doesn't have enough money to adequately review them all.
       But then, extinction is said to be forever, and I don't remember any
extinct species ever being brought back to life.  Might happen in the
future, and the cost might be higher than keeping it from going extinct.
Kind of like introduced species, it costs money to keep introduced species
from getting into your country, but that's a lot cheaper than trying to get
rid of them, and they can cause enormous economic damage, particularly to
agriculture.  So an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.
Discussion of priorities for spending are completely appropriate.  But
species names are not subject to the legal system, so far as I know (not
being a lawyer).
      Cheers,  Doug

On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 3:34 AM, Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>wrote:

> Yes listers, I read Reef Reminiscences. It was very good but all the
> authors were biologists. No geologists! Manyany of you know that reef
> studies started with geologists. I guess it is just sour grapes. As for
> the question of listing and changing species names lawyers will relish
> the problem and fix it with your tax money. That is what listing is all
> about. And Dennis, I was at the "Coral Reef Love In" that geologist Bob
> Ginsburg put together (seems like yesterday). I remember asking the
> question, "had we listed /Diadema/ when it started dying in 1983 would
> there be more today?" Umm Gene
> --
> No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
> ------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
> E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
> University of South Florida
> College of Marine Science Room 221A
> 140 Seventh Avenue South
> St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
> Tel 727 553-1158
> ---------------------------------- -----------------------------------
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