The Tyranny of the Gatekeeper
barry_roth at YAHOO.COM
Thu Oct 11 19:47:41 CDT 2001
--- christian thompson <cthompson at sel.barc.usda.gov>
> 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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