ATBI "Self-Destructs"

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Mon May 19 06:06:19 CDT 1997

At 03:53 PM 05-16-97 PDT, Peter Rauch wrote:

>Well, the visionary ATBI's painful demise has hit the presses bigtime
>with a brief report in SCIENCE, pg 893, May 9, 1997 'Unique, All-Taxa
>Survey in Costa Rica "Self-Destructs"'.
>Jocelyn Kaiser reports that it apparently died "because it seemed
>to benefit science more than the Costa Rican people."

For several years now, there has been a trend towards justifying various
types of systematic research on the basis of benefits to society.  We have
been encouraged to articulate just why our work is important to the world at
large, to demonstrate why the things we do have significance beyond the
halls of science.  In fact, in some quarters, it has become a downright
mania to prove that OUR science can contribute to the amelioration of
societal ills as well as chemistry and medecine.

If I had a nickel for everytime Catharanthus roseus/Hodgkin's lymphoma has
been trotted out as proof positive of the value of systematics, I could
support a dozen post-docs in traditional monographic taxonomy.

>From the very beginning of this trend, I have feared that we were making
promises we couldn't deliver on ... at least not on a time-table acceptable
to a myopic and attention-deficit general public.  In order to get the
funding so necessary for our research -- research that we know in our hearts
has value that far transcends mere fiduciary coinsiderations -- we have said
that this research will generate great paybacks to average run-of-the-mill
people.  And we truly believe it will.  In time.  And often in very
intangible ways.  But it seems that the public isn't willing to wait.
They've called in their markers.

I only hope that we as a community respond to this setback with a more
honest response regarding the value of what we do.  I fear that we will only
be tempted to make every more extravagant promises when we see the golden
ring slipping beyond our grasp.

Thomas G. Lammers

Classification, Nomenclature, Phylogeny and Biogeography
of the Campanulaceae, s. lat.

Department of Botany
Field Museum of Natural History
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

e-mail:     lammers at
voice mail: 312-922-9410 ext. 317

"The true test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do,
   but how we behave when we don't know what to do."

                                                  -- John Holt

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