Names for Money

Richard Jensen rjensen at SAINTMARYS.EDU
Thu Feb 18 07:49:54 CST 1999

If you would read the first four lines of Neil Snow's remarks (see below), YOU
are not included in the group of amateurs he is discussing.  I believe that Snow
is right - there are many poorly trained amateurs whose attempts to describe taxa
wreak havoc on our taxonomic systems.  At the same time, I think we all recognize
that there are many "amateurs,"  as often as not probably self-taught, who have
made significant contributions.   There is truth to what Snow says in his
communication and we cannot address the real issues unless we are willing to
recognizing that a criticism of some should not be applied to all.  there is
noting arrogant about pointing out something we know to be real.

avocet wrote:

> Dr Neil Snow wrote:
> >
> > Taxonomy is still awash with amateurs. By amateurs I mean those who have
> > great enthusiasm for the subject, but who haven't spent years in the
> > library pouring over the past masters and learning the different schools
> > of thought and the theory behind them.  Ask an amateur or hobbyist what
> > his or her species concept is, when it was first articulated and by
> > whom, and how it differs from several other species concepts. You will
> > likely get a blank stare or some vacuous comment that species concepts
> > are irrelevant. Yet that same amateur might tomorrow go out publish a
> > new species in some poorly reviewed journal of low scientific standards.
> >
> In my opinion Dr Snow's attack on amateur taxonomists is
> appalling. His comments are arrogant and unjustified generalisms
> which could probably be equally well applied to some, so called,
> "professional" taxonomists.
> In passing, how many of the "past masters" cited above were amateurs
> themselves?
> I would like to know whether Dr Snow can provide a single species
> definition which will find universal approval and acceptance by all
> taxonomists? If he thinks he can, I would suggest that he himself
> needs to go back to the libaries and spend a few more years of
> research on that subject alone, not only research but also some deep
> reflection will be needed without doubt.
> > My experience suggests that most amateurs have little or no concept of
> > widespread infraspecific variation, or that such variation is an
> > expected consequence of evolutionary processes acting on local
> > populations. (Most have no understanding of evolution, either.)
> > Consequently, amateurs often describe local variants as new species,
> > which, if analysed globally, would be seen as regional variants unworthy
> > of taxnomic rank.
> >
> Why unworthy of taxonomic rank? Taxonomy is an information retrieval
> system which needs to record as much information as possible.
> Information about biodiversity (a primary concern to us all) can only
> be extracted once it has been properly labelled (named) and
> described. I suspect that many amateur taxonomists may have a better
> insight into the variation of their chosen fields of study than many
> museum or herbarium taxonomists who often only see a small sample of
> local populations where the view of  this variation may be lost in
> the  overall variation of all the material examined. A case of not
> being able to see the trees for the woods. I have certainly found
> concrete evidence of this in my own field of research.
> > It may be unpopular to say so, but I believe the majority of amateurs
> > publishing new "species" are grossly incompetent as scientists.
> These are strong words! In view of the peer review system applied by
> most journals, surely these comments must reflect most sadly on the
> reviewers as well?
> > I  routinely scan dozens of systematics journals and am frequently appalled
> > to see new "species" described in the absence of any scientific or
> > scholarly context.  Whether this is only by amateurs or more highly
> > trained specialists is hard to know.
> >
> Precisely!
> >From what I have read in recent posts, the "sale" of the right
> to name new species seems to originate from within the ranks of
> professionals, not the amateurs. If it was up to the amateurs, who by
> definition are unpaid, I am sure that this practice would not be
> tolerated. If there is to be any prostitution of taxonomy then those
> whose livelyhood depends on it are far more likely to succumb to this
> temptation than those whose study is undertaken out of the purer
> motives of interest and curiosity.
> Do not forget that the major museums of today were founded on the
> work and collections of the amateurs of the past. Maybe it is time
> for these museums to repay their debt by offering their facilities
> more widely to the present day amateurs. Isn't it better to have
> collaboration than antagonism?
> The unimportant views of an  amateur taxonomist
> (Who has spent a lifetime doing all the things we are not believed
> to do, i.e., reading the literature, learning new techniques and
> going out into the field to study the organisms of interest, both in
> life as well as collecting preserved material - for the most part
> without the finances of an  organisation to support my efforts.)

Richard J. Jensen              TEL: 219-284-4674
Department of Biology      FAX: 219-284-4716
Saint Mary's College         E-mail: rjensen at
Notre Dame, IN  46556

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