ATBI "Self-Destructs" and what we do

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Tue May 20 06:03:38 CDT 1997

At 10:36 AM 05-20-97 +0800, Utteridge Timothy Michael Arthur wrote:

>an entomologist (Roger Kitching I think) conducting surveys of Australian
>rainforest sites, his team wanted to use taxonomic expertise but felt that
>our methods would take too long before he got a species list, so they used
>morpho-species instead. The systematics can come later was their point, I
>know this is concerned with a different field (biodiversity assessment for
>site evaluation s.str.) but I found it worrying that the systematics can
>just be leap frogged.
>This is obviously not the first time this has happened, is it something to
>worry about?. Are there many other example where names, and phylogeny, are
>not used by biologists, but who use morphospecies and code number instead?

As far as I'm concerned, these people are DOING systematics.  We may not
like the kind of systematics they are doing.  It may not meet our exacting
standards for scientific rectitude and it may not follow the currently
accepted paradigm, but they are trying to find out What All This Stuff Is,
and to me, that is a foundation block of systematics.   At the risk of
putting words in their mouths, it seems to me that what they are saying to
us is that the systematics community is spending too much time  and money
sequencing molecules, calculating genetic identity values, maximizing
parsimony, and determining priority of epithets, and not enough time out in
the field learning the organisms and trying to create a workable universal
classification system for the world's biota.

Our methodology may be far superior and much more rigorously scientific than
that of our 19th century colleagues, but if it takes us FOREVER to generate
a useful product, what's the point?

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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