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Pseudechis porphyriacus taxonomy

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Posted by richardwells on May 08, 2003 at 08:22:30:

In Reply to: Pseudechis porphyriacus taxonomy posted by rayhoser on April 25, 2003 at 18:19:27:

:Richard I posted the paper last week.
:Expect it any day.


Still haven't received your papers! I really must publish soon. As I told you last year, I am convinced that the Australian population of Chondropython viridus is an undescribed species. I have only refrained from describing it because you told me that you intended describing it and "...had a paper in press" Now almost a year has gone by and I still haven't received your paper or even a reference to it so that I can quote it. Ditto your Pseudechis paper, your textilis paper, and your Morelia paper as well! I am hopeful that something will come out soon, but I am starting to worry that this may not happen in time for my next wave of articles. Don't get me wrong Ray, I am only too happy to stand aside and allow you to describe the species concerned, but please be aware that I have very little time for further delays to my work. As you know I have been a long time critic of some other workers in Australia and elsewhere who effectively frustrated the work of others through their 'warehousing' of taxa that they promoted as their exclusive domain. I really believe basic taxonomy has been absolutely crippled by the erroneous belief that it should only be the domain of the perfectionist morphologist, and nowadays their close colleague, the very slow but expensive white-coated lab-rat with an Aladdin's Lamp of biochemical and genetic genies promising total solutions, but delivering little in the way of finality to their work! There is no doubt that they do have a part to play - but such 'researchers' are now controlling the progress of taxonomy in Australia - and their progress is very slow indeed. We have reached the absurd situation where otherwise good biologists are virtually expected to discover the origin of life before they will dare risk their careers by fixing a name on a species now. It is really becoming quite a pathetic situation when the few biologists who have a natural leaning towards taxonomy, dare not act for fear of invoking the omnipotent disapproval of a few usually over-rated, inexperienced, self-appointed 'Gatekeepers of Taxonomy'. During the years of my interest in herpetology, I observed their antics over and over again, where delays in publishing were due to all sorts of excuses. How about the good old Grant Gravy Train that they all take turns riding, where one research grant had to be followed by another to ensure progress taxonomically (the 'not enough funds' excuse). What about that old curse of 'inadequate material' - where more and more specimens had to be collected (the 'not enough specimens' excuse). And if that wasn't bad enough, then they would trot out the 'too difficult to describe at this time' excuse because they were expanding their interests and activities in peripheral areas to get even more research grant money. And as for that 'cryptic species' crap - what a laugh that would be if it did't result in even bigger research grants to build whole laboratories 'to solve the problems of cryptic taxonomy' that never seem to get solved. The only thing cryptic is their taxonomic productivity as far as I can see.
Don't fall into their company if only through being involved with too many other important projects. Get on with it and either name them or not. First in, best dressed, mate. I mean after all, we have so little time to study life on this planet, and so many species to name - and so few people actually willing to try and set the boundaries. Don't fear being wrong, if that's the problem - just state what you believe with the evidence that you have. I mean at least try and do the best that you can. For instance, your new Taipan description wasn't at all convincing if you don't mind me saying, and from my reading of the Code it IS a Nomen Nudum as others contend. If you really still think it is distinct, you should redescribe it urgently Ray, before someone else fixes a name to this population. In my forthcoming paper on Oxyuranus I have maintained scutellatus as a single species, but discussed at length my belief that there are distinct morphological variants of scutellatus in eastern Australia. When I first heard that Taipans were in the Top End of the NT and northwestern WA back in 1977 I must admit that I suspected that they may have been distinct from those in Queensland - perhaps even closer to canni. However, a specimen that I examined in the NTM in Darwin from the Reynolds River country had similarities to those from around Cairns! I even went to the exact place where it had been collected with the original collector to examine its habitat. The body of the specimen appeared more angular in shape in places, but really Taipans can change so much with diet as well as both ontogenetically and sexually during their life that you would have to try pretty hard to convince me that the NW 'population' is distinct from the evidence offerred in your paper - it is possible, and maybe likely, but I haven't seen enough of them to believe it yet. In the case of canni however, I am completely convinced that it is a full species in its own right, with its own population variations.
On a related aspect, I have only just read some of the responses to your recent taxonomic papers, and well, um...perhaps you might be worried about what others may say if you publish any more. I don't know. If this is so, then you should not be too sensitive about critics like David Williams and Wolfgang Wuster. Although I don't class either of them as taxonomists - both are obviously much more than mere taxonomists - all they were doing was quite rightly pointing out what they perceived were inadequacies in your work. What's wrong with that? They had no obligation to follow or agree with your findings or mine or anyone else's for that matter. Their responses were quite gentlemanly compared to what I'm used to - I mean Raymond, at least you haven't been called the AIDS of Zoology!! Being first to fix a name doesn't equate to having the last word Ray or even being 'right'. Or, I would argue even establishing a meaningful position of Authority on the particular taxon. It's only a beginning, a starting point from which to develop further understanding. Sure it would be great to achieve ultimate perfection on the first try, but that must come later as a consequence of a huge amount of subsequent work. That subsequent work may diminish your contribution, enhance it or indeed, it may even destroy it - that's science. But to my mind taxonomy is best practiced initially as a simple name-fixing action guided by the Rules of the Code of Zoological Nomenclature. And as I said do the best you can with what you have at your disposal. Then along will come Science to test the hypotheses offered. And this is where those wonder boys come in - you know the one's that have to morphologically examine a thousand dead blue-tongue lizards, studying every single scale, pulling apart their gonads and dissecting their skeletons with intricate detail and skill before they are prepared to publish even a basic statement on the taxonomy of the matter at hand. Wondrous, no doubt about that, but Society can afford to produce and cosset only a few of such geniuses. Ray, I can well understand how difficult it may be for some to actually cross the intellectual threshold and fix a new name to a particular taxon. I can also understand how important it may be for some to bring to finality work on a taxon that they may have spent a long time researching. But such individuals should realise that there is at least one taxonomist (a 'meddling amateur' as I was once called by an inexperienced student who had published nothing) who follows the Code of Zoological Nomenclature's Rules and Recommendations in preference to those of an unproductive taxonomic elite. I really don't want to interfer or disrupt the work of anyone and to this end I have made my intention to reclassify the Australian Reptilia widely known - as I did over 1 year prior to the publication of the 'Synopsis'. I urge you to publish urgently or risk having your names thrown into synonymy.

Yours Taxonomically,

Richard Wells

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