Tuesday, February 08, 2011

What is a treatment?

On the way to define or better provide a description of treatment for the forthcoming release of taxpub, we once again stumble, as we many times did in our meetings, about the term "treatment". For us, it seemed, it was always clear that a treatment is the scientific description of a taxon including a Latinized name of the nominate taxon,followed by one or several elements such as references to older literature citing this taxon and putting it in relation (nov.comb, syn., etc.), a description (a verbatim morphological decription; that is why the element is not called description but treatment), distribution (a summary of the materials citated), materials citation (including references to the original specimen or observations used for the analysis), biology, ecology, host-relationships, etymology, etc.

On earlier publications we referred to treatment as follows:

"The presentation of names or treatments of species in taxonomic literature is not individual in the sense described above. The content of these treatments may be of high scientific value, it may be singular and new, but it derives fundamental meaning only in the context of scientific conventions that have long been established and practiced. Taxonomic treatments are formulated in a highly standardized language following highly standardized criteria. They adhere to rules and pre-defined logic.
They are not "individual", nor "original" in the sense of copyright law. They are thus data, but not "works", and therefore belong to the public domain." (Agosti & Egloff, 2009)

A key feature of this literature is the taxonomic “treatment”: publications or (more frequently) sections of publications documenting the features or distribution of a related group of organisms (called a “taxon”, plural “taxa”) in ways adhering to highly formalized conventions. Some of these are over a century old and are maintained by scientific commissions accepted by the profession. Two of the most significant are the international standard for naming animals, the International Code for Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), and the corresponding code for plants, the International Code for Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN).(Catapano, 2010)

Winston (Winston, J. E. 1999. Describing species. Practical taxonomic procedures for biologists. Columbia University Press, New York. 518 pp) uses this term only once (p370)"...to find a monographic treatment with a key that covered all the known species". For her, treatments are "species descriptions". She doesn't present an explicit definition (at least, I haven't found it), but discusses what belongs into it on page 83:

"However, there is a common basic structure: a heading that consists of scientific name, name, author, and date, followed by a synonymy (a list of previous references to that species), and then the main body of the description, which may include etymology, diagnosis, taxonomic discussion, ecology, and distribution sections. Aftet the somewhat looser style of textbooks and research articles, taxonomic descriptions may at first seem mystifying, rather like a racetrack program in which each entering horse's form is described in tiny print and strange abbreviations. In fact, the standard taxonomic description bears a strong resemblance to the information given on each horse entered in a particular race, giving similar vital statistics (animal's name, parentage, date of "birth," description, and past performance) and packing a considerable amount of information about the organism into a very small space.


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