ATBI "Self-Destructs" and what we do

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Tue May 20 11:44:34 CDT 1997

Interesting self-flagellation and introspection going on about why
"systematics" is in the (poorly understood and supported) situation is
has always been in.

But, to try to bring the focus back to what stimulated this discussion,
I don't believe that the failure of society to appreciate systematics
is what blew the ATBI out of the water. Important parts of society
actually recognized the value of exploring the ATBI approach to this
serious problem of inventorying and ultimately understanding a lot more
about a landscape-sized biota.  Creative scientists and socially
concerned individuals created and nurtured the concept. Reviewers
passed kindly on the proposals.  Banks and governments gave serious
money to support the proposed enterprise. Systematists joined the
effort, committing serious time and skill to make the ATBI happen. But,
according to the SCIENCE report, it sounds like perhaps one person, or
a very few, might have, very late in the process of bringing this
"impossible" project to fruition, killed it. I don't know the facts
--only what I read here and there, but if ever there was an opportunity
for systematists to address the "poor cousin" syndrome that systematics
(and allied sciences and arts) has lived, the ATBI was one of them!  It
seems to me that instead of introspection a little interest in exactly
why the ATBI fracaso' would be in timely order.

And, now moving on to another point brought up in some of the
discussion, it was stated "I think we, and other publicly-supported
enterprises, are being held to a much higher and unrealistic standard
than corporations and other businesses". I don't think so.

Businesses' and corporations' feet are held to the fire of their
stockholders. They are held to the laws of the land. They meet the
bottom line expectations, or fail (and disappear). Systematics
is held to a _different_, but not "higher" nor "unrealistic"
standard, that of the practices of science mostly.

The fact that the systematics (and conservation and environmentalism,
and lots of other science for that matter) enterprise has difficulty
"selling" itself is because it has been difficult for society to
valuate it, not because it is held to a higher standard.  The bottom
line of systematics is much more elusive that the bottom line of a
business/corportation. (And, since the world is designed and built by
business/corporations [those politicians and lawyers are not
systematists...], I suppose that systematics will always be a
very secondary consideration.)

So, what really happened to the ATBI?

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