Classif. and Species - Part

Warren Lamboy warren_lamboy at QMRELAY.MAIL.CORNELL.EDU
Mon Mar 27 13:28:38 CST 1995

                       Subject:                               Time:13:51
  OFFICE MEMO          Classif. and Species - Part II         Date:26/03/1995

{I had intended to check my reference to Camp and add a few more comments
before sending my  previous message, but my itchy trigger finger hit the
'send' button before I could stop it!}

The reference to Camp (1951)  which I made in my previous message was not
quite accurate (I wasn't looking to Camp for support, I wanted to give him
credit.)  What Camp said in his retirement address before the American Society
of Plant Taxonomists, NY, 27 Dec 1949 (published in Brittonia 7(3):  113-127
was (p. 118))

". . . The naked truth is that the basic, working unit of classical, empiric
taxonomy--'the species'--is not and never was defined with sufficient
biological soundness or precision for this kind of taxonomy to be called a
science.  It is an art.  Its practitioners, therefore, have every right to
interpret a scene as they wish, and paint it from the angle which they
personally see it.  It is a bitter fact--and we must face it squarely."

I did not have the privilege to know Dr. Camp (I was -3 years old at the time
of his address), and I do not know whether he would agree with me, but I would
extend his statement to systematics in general and maintain that systematics
is part science and part art, and always must be if it is to describe and
classify organisms based on the characteristics "that matter" (see my previous
In my opinion, many of the efforts that have been made to eliminate the
subjective and the artistic from systematics have been detrimental to progress
in the field.  To paraphrase Camp, I think that we must face the fact that
good systematic work contains a large artistic component whether we want to
admit it or not.  It takes a scientist to collect and analyze the data
properly, but it takes an artist to craft it into something useful, beautiful,
and amenable to human understanding.

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