Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Mess of Flower Families

My camera takes okay Flower Pictures; Since I now have the disk space and bandwidth, I thought I snap flower photos when I take hikes. Of course, this decision means that my Wildflower gallery has grown out of control. So, I decided to undertake the task of splitting out the wildflower gallery by Family.

That means that I am spending the day dealing with the giant mess of flower names.

I said that plant naming schemes is a mess. The reason for this is that scientists have recently decided to rename all of the plants.

The original systems of classification developed by Linnaeus, et al., was designed to help botanists to name and indentify species. The current thinking is that the nomenclature should follow the phylogenetics of species. Phylogenetics is the evolutionary tree of life.

Personally, my sympathy lies with the Linnaeus thoughts on species identifiction. The nomenclature should first and foremost be designed to aide in the identification and communication of information. The efforts of achieving an ideal like creating a complete and perfect picture of the tree of life could easily be accomplished as a side effort.

The absurd game that botanist play to day leaves the world in an pitiable state where the words used to name plants change on a regular basis.

The Darwinian fed mania to have a Phylogenetic nomenclature has led many people to start renaming species before we really had the technology sufficient for building such a tree of life.

Had we kept the traditional nomenclature that was built with the aim of identification we would have been in an enviable situation where people could still read 5 year botany texts, and have multiple existing abstract models concerning figurations for a tree of life. Instead, we have an absolute mess where people dealing with plants have a difficult time communicating.

One really bizarre result of the Phylogenetics mania is that businesses that deal in plants have stopped using the scientific names for plants and have resorted to using the common names of plants because they find the common names more consistent.

The idea that the names have to perfectly reflect Gaia's creation of the earth is really quite contemptuous when you think of it. The earth is some six billion years old. The nature of geology means that there will be discontinuities in any given fossil record. There are some 350,000 identified species of living plants and many, many more extinct species. The idea that we can easily create a full, complete and perfect tree of life is really quite contemptuous.

Had the glorious scientists who recently undertook the attempt to rename all plants with a Phylogenetic nomenclature had a wick of sense, they would have realized that their efforts were like the early databases that used smart keys as the primary key for rows in a database. A smart key is a key that actually contains information about the data in the row. When you change the key, you inadvertantly break all of the existing relations in the database. For example, let's say I used your birthday as the primary key for your employment record. One day I realize that you were born in 1976, not 1967. My correcting that error would suddenly break the integrity of the database. I would loose track of your employment information.

The problem that occurs with smart keys is happening in botany and contemptuous scientists change names with Darwinian fanaticism. This idea that names must follow Phylogenetics is creating a situation where we are breaking our ability to communicate with eachother. We are breaking our ability to read botany texts from the past, etc..

Building a tree of life is a worthy effort. The effort would actually be easier if we kept the traditional nomenclature based on indentifiable attributes of plants. Such a schema would allow us to create more robust models of the tree of life. Preserving the traditional nomenclature would have preserved the history of errors made in a pure attribute based identification system.

Anyway, here are a few of the pages I've started. Right now each of the galleries only have one or two plants in it, but they should grow as I stick labels on pictures:

  • Asteracea Family (Aster Family)
  • Ranunculaceae Family (Buttercup Family)
  • Scrophulariaceae Family (Figwort Family )
  • Geraniaceae Family (Geranium Family)
  • Brassicaceae Family (Mustard Family)
  • Alliaceae (Onion Family)
  • Apiaceae Family (Parsley Family)
  • Penstomen Genus (Penstomen)
  • Polemoniaceae Family (Phlox Family)
  • Rosaceae Family (Rose Family)
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