Appreciating the basics

Dennis Paulson dpaulson at MIRRORS.UPS.EDU
Mon Jul 29 09:45:25 CDT 1996

Thomas Lammers wrote:

>It is my strong impression that many people in the systematics community
>(and the world at large) feel that it is necessary to denigrate the old
>in order to validate the new.  I do not pretend to understand the psychology
>of such a viewpoint, but it does seem widespread.  Even in fields like
>angiosperm and insect systematics, where perhaps only one-half or less of
>the world's species diversity has been discovered, named, and described,
>many denigrate such fundamental activities as description of new species,
>revising the classification of groups, producing comprehensive monographs
>of groups, and preparing identification guides to groups in a given
>geographic region.  It's not science, which implies it is not of value.

As well as being a practicing systematist (classical, not molecular), I
teach a lot of adult-education courses.  Lay people who are interested in
nature usually think it's a great privilege to go out with a naturalist who
can actually identify flora and/or fauna and tell them something about it.
It's amazing how much people light up when you take them out in the field
and show them a dragonfly you described yourself and tell them the history
of its discovery.  You can really get across the idea of how much more we
need to learn from nature.  And I think, from the number of people who
watch nature shows on TV, that that attitude is widespread.  So it's hard
to understand how there can be such disregard for classical systematics,
especially with the high profile of preserving biodiversity.

Many molecular systematists collect their own material, so they know what
it's like to go out in the field, and I personally can't understand why
such a person would ignore the contributions of classical systematics,
unless it's simply a bandwagon effect.  Perhaps the key indeed is the
"psychology of such a viewpoint," and we need to have more constructive
dialog to promote the "I'm OK, you're OK" theme in systematics!

Dennis Paulson, Director                           phone 206-756-3798
Slater Museum of Natural History                 fax 206-756-3352
University of Puget Sound                       e-mail dpaulson at
Tacoma, WA 98416

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