$pecies names

Les at Les at
Thu Feb 19 11:22:14 CST 1998


Doug Yaneda's commentary started out with something I could strongly agree
with but then it went down a side track of some kind.  His first point,
though, of a taxonomic "union" isn't too far-fetched.  One problem with
taxonomy over the past 20 years or so is that while the field was taking all
those "hits" from the molecular biologists there was no unified voice
responding to some of the ridculous claims being made.  A dispirited and
dis-unified group of taxonomists was easy to rout.  Now though, the
importance of taxonomy to understanding the history of life on earth, the
biodiversity crisis, and even conservation issues (so-called front-line
conservationists notwithstanding) has been recognized and there is some
increased funding to train new taxonomists.  So, our base is stronger and
there is a recognition of the importance of our work.

What is needed now is a strengthening of the approach to taxonomy, perhaps a
certification.  After all, engineeers must be certified by a national board
before they can be hired to design buildings or bridges, or whatever.
Lawyers and doctors have their own post-graduate hurdles to leap before they
can practice their "profession".  Well, its time we stood up and said that
taxonomy is a profession, not a Saturday afternoon natural history escape.
We have codes which must be followed for naming, etc.  We could have Codes
of Ethics as well.

The Ecological Society of America established a certification process for
ecologists during the heyday of environmental studies in the U.S.  Granted,
it hasn't worked too well, mostly because there is no way to censure the
work done by non-certified ecologists, or at least, no high visibility court
cases have been tried where non-certified ecologists were shown to have done
shoddy work.  We have seen lately, however, papers getting rejected because
of sloppy statistics.  Parenthetically, one might observe that ecological
papers rarely get rejected because of sloppy taxonomy (does anyone ever
check the identifications in published ecological papers?).

So, how to enforce the certification business.  Well, one way would be to
get the systematic societies who sponsor journals to refuse to accept papers
unless one of the authors was certified.  This idea would spread because of
the perception of quality work that would be attached to such papers.  In
other words, peer review isn't enough.  International certification would
also mean that all taxonomists would eventually have to be certified.

Is this the solution to abuses of patrimony?  Not really, but it would
ensure that amateur natualists looking for an easy ride wouldn't be able to
so easily bilk innocent donors out of their money.  In a sense its not
really possible to prevent abuses of any system.  What's needed is a way to
discredit abusers.  If loss of certification meant loss of publication
privileges, or non-recognition of self-published work, it would seem that
there would then be a stickw ith some clout.

Anyway, some thoughts.
Best regards,
Les Watling
Darling Marine Center
University of Maine
Walpole, ME 04573
Phone: 207-563-3146 x248
Fax:  207-563-3119 or 207-563-8407
e-mail: watling at maine.maine.edu

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