The Tyranny of the Gatekeeper

Barry Roth barry_roth at YAHOO.COM
Thu Oct 11 19:47:41 CDT 2001

--- christian thompson <cthompson at>

> The gatekeepers at ITIS are taxonomists themselves;
> but ITIS does have the capability of "hosting"
> multiple classifications.  So long as each name
> (whether valid or invalid) has an unique Taxonomic
> Serial Number [TSN] then those names can be
> displayed under different classification. However,
> it should be remember one of the reasons for ITIS is
> to provide one authoritative classification which
> government agencies can follow.

Yes, agencies sometimes need a clear and unambiguous
statement of how things are; and their actions can
have important consequences for taxon survival.  But
agency activity is not the only (and not even
necessarily the highest) use of the taxonomist's
work-product.  Therefore, a database which is designed
to serve agencies' needs should be recognized for what
it is:  a specialized formulation, one among many
possible statements of taxonomic reality, pointed
toward a particular use.

> Simply put, some one must decide whether Osama bin
> Laden is a terrorist or a freedom fighter.

This is a truly unfortunate choice of metaphor.  In
one context/viewpoint he is one; in another, the
other.  And a war is being fought to settle the issue.

> Democracy is nice, but every once in awhile we need
> to make a decision and follow the consequences.

Are you quoting John Ashcroft here?  (I take that
back; uncalled-for cynicism.)  My question of the
managers of any registration system (call it a
"meta-taxonomy") would be, "how did you arrive at the
formulation you present to users?  What was the basis
on which you chose between competing input from the
at-large world of practicing taxonomists?"

>And even while Science does allow for multiple
> hypotheses, the process of Science is such that only
> one hypothesis survives among conflicting ones.

A hypothesis survives because (and as long as) it
continues to pass repeated tests -- not because some
agency buckaroo declares "finis!"



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