Selling names; biodiversity; systematics; etc.

B. J. Tindall bti at DSMZ.DE
Wed Jan 26 12:45:47 CST 2000

The point about "selling names" made by Laurie Consaul (Research Division,
Canadian Museum of Nature) and at BIOPAT seems to centre on getting public
interest in the problem of biodiversity. I think we would all agree that it
is not that easy to get financial support for work in areas of
taxonomy/systematics. Within my own area in microbiology there is an
interesting trend to see groups (e.g. TIGR) getting involved in whole
genome analysis and then talking about "structure and function" (i.e.
homology) and using tools such as parsimony analysis, Markov models and a
whole spectrum of basic numerical taxonomic principles (numerical in the
wider sense) to work out what is going on. Sad to say we also find some
really rather problematic interpretations because of the failure to
appreciate the underlying taxonomy of the group(s) in question and the
failure to realise that when you do this kind of comparative work you are
forced into various aspects of systematics (whether or not you realise it).
If you look at the EMBL sequence search site you can do "homology searches" (i.e.
protein or gene sequence similarity - the discussion about the misuse of
homology should be familiar), just to name one example.
Perhaps the problem is not so much whether we should be "selling names",
but how to get proper recognition of the work we are doing?
Brian Tindall

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