a Grand Scheme for systematics? (was Re: Electronic publishing (fwd))

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Mon Mar 11 17:57:16 CST 1996

Jim Beach spake thusly:

>It seems to this subscriber (before this thread becomes a casual and
>senseless battleground for the luddites versus the technologists) that
>there are many issues surrounding electronic publication that could be
>fruitfully discussed here, one of which is the archival function.
>Dissemination, cost, technical overhead, social and career credit,
>availability of Dead Sea Scroll material from Herbarium Supply being a few
>It seems pointless to allude to scripture, ICBN or Judeo-Christian, throw
>up our arms say let's wait 'till it all settles out.  It will never settle
>out!  Technology will change more quickly every year from now until
>eternity.  It will never congeal.  We'll never catch up. The more relevant
>perspective is whether taxonomic professional societies, academic criteria
>for professional evaluation, and our personal valuation and use of the
>electronic infrastructure will take good advantage of the ways in which
>technology is changing the way science is done and communicated.
>There are hundreds of problems or opportunities to take on in this area.
>Let's take some on and move forward.

All right then - to combine this with a thread that's been going on over on
Entomo-l for some time - we face one rather serious dilemma; a dwindling
ability to pass on information. In the present thread, this relates to our
ability to convert older media to increase their accessibility. In the
entomo-l thread, the issue focused on the rapidly-shrinking *personnel*
capable of identifying and naming organisms. Both represent potential
losses of knowledge and as such are anathema to folks such as ourselves.
The two are clearly linked in that one process creates new info, the other
passes it on (and if there are fewer and fewer systematists, who will
update the archives?).
        Are our present sources of funding adequate now, and perceived as
likely to be stable in the future, or are other folks a bit more
pessimistic (as I am) and feel that here, too, we're dealing with a
dwindling resource? What happens to many US collections, for instance, if
NSF some day eliminates their museum improvement grant program? Here's a
pretty central problem, no? What can we do to "take it on"?
        I've sometimes thought that perhaps what we need is a Grand Scheme;
a multi-national, multi-institutional program that can attract its OWN
funding, award grants, and be self-perpetuating. What would this take? An
endowment? A new non-profit organization? Who would contribute the money to
such an enterprise? Would a "World Biodiversity Institute" generate public
interest, or only agribusiness, pharmaceutical, and other profit-making
interests? What kind of effort would it take to attract sufficient money
from these sources? How many years would it take to implement, and how
would the process start? Are there entities already in place, such as the
ASC, that could serve as a foundation? Most importantly, what would it take
for this to go beyond some purely theoretical construct on this newsgroup
(after all, if we can't clear that hurdle, the idea is worthless to begin
with)? Otherwise, it's like daydreaming about what to do when you win the
        I dunno - maybe I feel a greater sense of urgency (i.e., panic)
given that I don't even *have* a permanent job yet, and fear that I'll be
forced to give up on science altogether in order to survive. I don't like
the thought that my entire future as a scientist may hinge upon the future
vigor of NSF and my ability to extract money from it (at the expense of
other researchers, naturally). I'd like to have a solid alternative
available, one that is devoted first and foremost to the discovery and
preservation of our basic knowledge of biodiversity (i.e., alpha taxonomy
and natural history), rather than feeling (as suggested in a recent
posting) as if I were some pagan priest faced with barbarians pounding at
the gates.
        I'm sure I've bitten off more than I can chew here, but a debate on
the future of systematics as a discipline and as a career is at least
on-topic. ;-)
Sincerely (and somewhat desperately),

Doug Yanega       Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA      phone (217) 244-6817, fax (217) 333-4949
 affiliate, Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Dept. of Entomology
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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