What are we going to do about this?

Dennis Paulson dpaulson at MAIL.UPS.EDU
Wed Oct 23 16:33:19 CDT 1996

Taxonomy started with "gentleman naturalists" for the most part, with
family money rather than through commerce.  Nowadays, however, most of the
wealthy people are money managers, business CEOs, and the like.  Times have
changed, and we won't see the gentleman (or -woman) naturalist again.  And
I've tried and tried to convince Bill Gates to fund studies in dragonfly
systematics, and I don't understand why he doesn't answer my letters....

But there are also a huge number of people, especially retired people, who
are sympathetic to biology (or, more accurately, nature) and with adequate
supplies of spending money.  Nature tours are full of them.  Audubon
Society lectures are full of them.  Adult-education classes about nature
are full of them.  Lots of professionals--lawyers, doctors, and their
spouses.  How about a movement to get this group interested in classical
alpha taxonomy?  It relates so well to nature that we should be able to
make the connection, and combining NATURE with DISCOVERY should be a
powerful attractant.

There are research groups such as Earthwatch that take people out and have
them study gibbon behavior in Borneo or reef fish communities in the
Caribbean, etc. (I believe including some biotic surveys).  Why not develop
a taxonomically oriented "Biotawatch" that has people paying to (a) help a
researcher collect specimens of a particular taxonomic group or (b) help
sort and describe the specimens or (c) (preferably) both?  I don't see why
this shouldn't be just as possible as using such "volunteers" for
ecological and behavioral studies.  If Costa Rica can train
parataxonomists, why not the same for researchers where much of the
taxonomic work is being done, e.g., in North American and European
universities.  Perhaps all it will take is for taxonomists to start wearing
clean shirts and polishing their people skills.  Well, I guess it would
also take an energetic person or group of people to start such a program!

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

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