Taxonomy of the kind I still see too much of

Here we report a new dinosaur Nomen dubium (gen. et. sp. nov.) based on a very incomplete specimen with most of the important parts missing and the rest badly prepared, preserved, damaged or all three, including all the parts that have critical characters for the placement of this taxon in the clade we say it belongs to. It comes from the very vaguely defined beds of uncertain age of some incredibly large and unspecific region which we clearly got from a fossil dealer but won’t admit to. Nomen dubium can be diagnosed by the following characters that we will repeat in full in the paper but we want to put here to flesh out the abstract: absence of a key element that could easily just be missing given how incomplete the fossil is, the absence of a key character that is equally probably just broken because the bone is so badly damaged, and some ridiculously unhelpful and non-diagnostic character like the length of the femur and the number of gastralia, we do include one proper character but it’s not diagnostic of the taxon so much as saurischians / reptiles / tetrapods so is useless. This new genus is placed in the family Wastebasketoidea because it is really poorly defined so we can cram anything we want in there even though all the other members are from a different continent and are 50 million years younger. Finally we conclude with some pretty meaningless statement like the fact that this adds to the diversity of the area (like it could do anything else, though of course that point is dripping with irony given the appalling definition presented here that clearly means this isn’t new) or that it was an important part of the terrestrial ecosystem or some other pointlessly obvious and uninformative sentence.

I’m not the only one who keeps seeing these am I? And I’m not the only one who is worried he’s actually produced something like this either, right?

16 Responses to “Taxonomy of the kind I still see too much of”

  1. 1 Zach Miller 29/03/2010 at 8:44 am

    Best. Post. EVER.

  2. 2 Christopher Taylor 29/03/2010 at 9:14 am

    Try taking a look at Neal Evenhuis’ (2008) only-slightly-facetious glossary of type terminology, available at It includes such terms as remorsotype (“the type of a taxon the author regrets having described”), abruptotype (“type of a taxon hastily described to meet a project, grant, or publication deadline”), collectotype (“the type specimen of a new species instantly recognized by an authority but in the personal collection of a collector who refuses to give it up under any circumstances”) or miragotype (“a type of a taxon in which the distinguishing characters can only be seen at certain times and under certain conditions”). My favourite, though, is the ephemerotype (“a type specimen that disintegrates completely after only a day and must be replaced by a neoephemerotype on a daily basis”).

  3. 6 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. 29/03/2010 at 9:48 am

    Where is the “like” button? I would so hit it for this post… 🙂

    • 7 David Hone 29/03/2010 at 10:12 am

      Well I did post it on FB so you can ‘like’ it there Tom. Or if you must, post it yourself on FB or send it to the Vert Pal list.

  4. 8 neil 29/03/2010 at 12:43 pm

    You forgot the part about how this basal derived wastebasketoid radically transforms our understanding of the evolutionary history of the group and challenges long held assumptions about biogeography of unspecific region and the evolution of some vague ecological/behavioral trait which we haven’t actually established for this taxon but just thought we’d throw it in there anyway.

  5. 10 Zach Miller 30/03/2010 at 4:03 am

    And then the onslaught of overreaching, misunderstanding media hype.

  6. 11 Albertonykus 30/03/2010 at 7:17 am

    Crowning moment of awesome.

  7. 12 Mike Keesey 31/03/2010 at 6:12 am

    Press release: “NEW DISCOVERY CHANGES EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT DINOSAURS”. (Especially if this is not a dinosaur.)

  8. 13 Bill Parker 31/03/2010 at 6:34 am

    Sshhhh! If this ever got out you’d put a lot of people out of the paleo business. 😉

  9. 14 Michael 31/03/2010 at 6:56 am

    Don’t understand either why it’s such a great problem to use open nomenclature instead of a new taxon if you really feel the necessity to do an XYZ paper (“X from the Y-ian of Z-land”) in order to document some progress in an ongoing project.

    Apparently the motivation to make only modest claims is low – to the disadvantage of the scientific community in decades and centuries to come.

  10. 15 Bill Parker 18/01/2013 at 4:10 am

    Hmmm…there is another Bill Parker now, this may get confusing. I’ll have to put an additional identifier after my comments. Aetosaurs, aetosaurs, aetosaurs….

  11. 16 James A. Stearns 21/01/2013 at 6:50 am

    On a related note, suppose a genus is known from 3 or 4 well-preserved specimens with an average size of 10 meters and 2 tons along with a couple of badly-preserved vertebrae that suggest a 14-meter, 4-ton individual.

    Popular books, documentaries, and other media will naturally list its size as “14 meters, 4 tons”.

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