Appreciating the basics

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at TFM.FMNH.ORG
Fri Jul 26 11:59:00 CDT 1996

Just a follow-up comment to Joseph Laffeirre's (sorry about the spelling)
comments on herbaria, scientific names, et al.

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.

There are more places on the face of this earth where NO ONE can
confidently identify the elements of the biota, than places for which
the opposite is true.  Places where the child's question, "What is that?"
(to hearken back to an earlier thread) simply cannot be answered by
ANYONE.  Places where, when the teacher says, "Hmm, I guess will have to
look it up", there are no books to look it up in.  They haven't been
written yet.

Oddly, the folks working on fundamentals seldom spend much effort denigrating
the new.  They are more likely to nod, say "Cool!  Sounds interesting!" and
then get back to work.

I would never want to see a systematics where EVERYONE was employed in the
fundamentals (naming, describing, revising, monographing, cataloging).
But I fear that I shall live to see a systematics community where NO ONE
is employed in the fundamentals, when we truly will be unable "to see the
forest for the [gene] trees."

Thomas G. Lammers                       lammers at
Department of Botany
Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago IL 60605-2496 USA

        "The optimist says, 'The glass is half full'.
         The pessimist says, 'The glass is half empty'.
         I just want to know, Where the hell is the rest of it?"

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