Taxonomist Qualifications: How to evaluate?

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Thu Jan 21 11:12:04 CST 1999

On Thu, 21 Jan 1999, Richard E. Hill wrote:
> We recently had a discussion about the lack of quality of inexperienced
> keyers compared to expert taxonomists.  I was disappointed in the
> resutls of that discussion because I did not find cure in the messages.

Richard, I can understand your disappointment, but consider this. The
reason the "cure" is not to be readily found in the [Taxacom] messages
is precisely because the problem (of lack of sufficient expert
taxonomists) is a very difficult one to resolve. There _really_ is, and
has been forever, a lack of taxonomists; society _really_ has not been
convinced that the first dollars (or franc or peso or ...) should be
spent on training and supporting taxonomists rather than (pick your
profession); and, in today's climate of tension between pro- and
anti-environmentalism, taxonomists are not seen simply as quaint seekers
of the novel, nor as elucidators of the dark, but as dangerous allies of
those who would stand in the way of "progress".

> Of course I understand the frustrations felt by many who have long had
> the desire, and perhaps the work, without the pay.  I have been
> promoting the case that we need to learn more about the species we want
> to save, and the ecosystems they require.
> ...  Please offer your wisdom...what makes a
> taxonomist qualified?

If we really want to apply "wisdom" to the problem, then I suggest we
heed the wisdom of those, like Aldo Leopold, who warn us to not tinker,
dismantling what we don't understand. Of course, people aren't seeking
wisdom --they're seeking the almighty dollar, now.

So, to move this dilemma off the mark, what will you do (about your
planned inventory of vernal pools) if it turns out that the reason you
can't find competent taxonomists is because there really is a lack of
them to take on the task? Will that diminish in one iota the desire to
preserve _all_ Calif's vernal pools? Don't we know enough already to
know that we do not wish for any more of them to be destroyed? Don't we
know enough already to suggest how to preserve them for the long haul?
Will it really make a difference to us if we learn that every vernal
pool remaining in Calif. has exactly the same community of taxa (at the
specific level) --will this permit us to feel good about permitting the
destruction of all but a few "samples" of this particular form of
biodiversity? Or, in contrast, if we learn that every vernal pool is
distinct, has its own distinct selection of species --will that do very
much to cause greater alarm among the general public, such that they'll
stop the bulldozers in their multitude of paths towards environmental

OK. Neither extreme is the case, no doubt. There are a pools with
differences and there are pools without. So, shall we select one or two
of each kind? One from each distant locality? These are the Hobson's
Choices some of us resist. Other people are more "practical" (some of
the environmental organizations come to mind), and make the "hard
choices", "cooperate" and "collaborate", with the politicians, make
HCP's and "work with their allies" to save "great places", etc.

Still no answers to your question --Where to find a good 5-cent
taxonomist? I guess so.... :<(

So, hold up your jars of specimens, your boxes of bugs, and say to all
who should listen --"Look! No one can tell us what these beasts are! I'd
like to know how best to preserve my samples, because the habitats from
which I took them are going to be destroyed next week."

Blabber, blabber, .....

More information about the Taxacom mailing list