What are we going to do about this? (longish)

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Fri Oct 25 11:26:21 CDT 1996

Andrew Whittington wrote:
> ON Thu, 24 Oct 1996 17:44:58 -0700
> Doug Yanega wrote
> >        This is pretty much exactly what I have suggested several times
> >before in this thread; to create a new organization run by taxonomists,
> >for taxonomists.
> The bane of Museums across the world seems to be an ever increasing
> number of adminsitrative staff, a decreasing number of research posts and
> a constantly less funding to run on.  What Doug is suggesting has also
> been a topic of casual conversation amoung Scottish Dipterists of the
> Malloch Society.  And it seems that this was indeed the starting point of
> many of the Big National Museums.  Gradually, as academics found that
> administration burdens increased, they felt a need to shed more and more
> of the responsibilities - unwittingly to their own sad end!  As this
> happened, admistrators grasped more and more of the power and gradually
> (sometimes not so gradually) shipped the curators and taxonomists out.
> We've come full circle.
> Will we not just be facing the same senario again and again if we do what
> Doug suggests?

I'm not so sure - what I am proposing is that a single organization be
created to put money directly into research positions, since the museums
and universities are getting worse at doing so (contrary to your
statement below, I don't think there are any arguments that can convince
a budget-minded administration to go back to non-profit-centered ideals).
The bulk of the administrative duties under the model I imagine are
carried by the host institution of the sponsored taxonomist. Possibly all
that is required then is that at least one member of the organization
acts as liaison to a given host institution - quite conceivably this is
trivial, if membership is extensive enough that every institution has at
least one member on permanent staff. Heck, someone else here raised the
question of establishing credentials for taxonomic expertise; if the
hypothetical organization had strict criteria for membership (such as
nomination and a review of accomplishments), but membership constituted
accreditation, then virtually every practicing taxonomist alive, whether
active professional, amateur, or emeritus, would be eligible for and
benefit from membership. Especially nice since there would be no dues,
either (makes sense, after all - if the goal is to put money into
taxonomists' pockets, then it'd be ridiculous to ask THEM for

>There seems no easy solution.  How about spending time
> convincing the admistrative staff that the purpose of a
> Museum/collection/taxonomic research institute is more than for the
> survival of administrative posts!  Perhaps we need to back-track to a more
> stable situation - a better balance between admin and research, with a
> consequential better balance of funding.

I cannot imagine that an administration which has already decided that
either (a) a museum itself is unprofitable, or (b) that hiring an alpha
taxonomist is not desirable compared to alternatives, can possibly be
persuaded to reverse that opinion. Do you imagine so? Note that I am
not talking about those still mercifully numerous places where they DO
realize the value of museums, I'm talking about places that have
already made that leap into value-centered thinking. I see it as a
ratchet, a process of attrition that cannot be reversed. How about
outside funding agencies? Are there any that will be convinced that MORE
money out of the shrinking budget earmarked for systematics should be
allocated to the low-budget, alpha taxonomy end of the spectrum? Worse
still, even if funding agencies *were* to do so, then the profit-minded
academic institutions hosting the scientists receiving these low-budget
grants would no doubt decide "Well, THIS guy certainly isn't paying his
way...in fact, his whole department put *together* doesn't generate the
overhead of a single molecular biochemist - why don't we fire them all
and take on a few more biochemists???" Yes, I know I'm constantly
offering the worst possible spin on things, but expecting the worst can
be a useful perspective when one's survival is at stake...

> And then:
> >Suppose, too, that the same organization that helped pay for your
> >research asked that you give slide shows at Audubon Society or Sierra
> >Club meetings or such, especially on occasions such as your taking a trip
> >to a museum in another city (which they might even fund directly), and
> >a local member of the organization there even helped with the
> >coordination and logistics? Would you do it?
> Although a good idea, my experience on these lines (and it isn't
> considerable), is that the societies normally want you to talk for free
> and will, at best, provide transport cover.

I was not talking about making these societies pay for your talk, though
your talk would certainly include some sort of solicitation from the
folks attending.

> My funding body seldom every
> pays for a trip to another Museum, let alone pay for me to talk to a
> group about my work!

That is precisely what I am suggesting a taxonomist's association WOULD
pay for.

> But to answer Doug's question of would I (or
> anybody else) do it - I respond, Why not?  It isn't unethical to be paid
> to give a talk is it?

The question was more a matter of whether or not you would find it an
imposition on your time to be compelled to engage in public education and
solicitation as a condition of receiving a monetary award? Some folks
might resent this, no?
Doug Yanega
UFMG, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

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