NATURE to save taxonomy!

Bill Shear wshear at EMAIL.HSC.EDU
Thu Jun 6 13:27:45 CDT 2002

On 6/6/02 1:03 PM, "Donat Agosti" <agosti at AMNH.ORG> wrote:

> Who cares, whether the Linnaean Society will be the sole repository of
> descriptions, as long as they are put into the public domain and deposited
> at a stable locality - similar to the deposition of types.

This is exactly the opposite of what is needed.  What is needed is wide
dissemination of information, not its deposition in one place (or even
several places).  As of now, species descriptions published in even the
meanest journal wind up in scores of libraries around the world, or even
posted for free (or relatively inexpensively) on the web.  The analogy with
type specimens is wrong.  Type specimens cannot be duplicated and sent out
all over the place.  Unless the Linnean Society or someone else has a means
of creating ACCESS to the information, the deposition of it there is

How is the data of taxonomy any less (or more) accessible than the data of
ecology or molecular biology?  In any field, one has to be ready to do the
library work needed to background a research project.

Taxonomy has been declared a "dead" science not by those who realize its
worth, but by those who dismiss it as "stamp collecting."  Taxonomy has been
damaged because we as taxonomists have not insisted on that worth, and have
not made our case to the public--and hence the funding agencies.

There is no structural problem with taxonomy and taxonomic information that
a little further tinkering will not fix.  What we really must do is make
society realize that our discovery and description of new taxa and their
evolutionary significance is just as important as the latest detailed
description of a molecule (why describing a molecule is great science and
worthy of publication in NATURE, while describing a species is not,
 has long been one of the real mysteries of the scientific subculture).

Bill Shear
Department of Biology
Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden-Sydney VA 23943
FAX (434)223-6374
email<wshear at>
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"The old naturalists were so sensitive and sympathetic to nature that they
could be surprised by the ordinary events of life.  It was an incessant
miracle to them, and therefore gorgons and flying dragons were not
incredible to them.  The greatests and saddest defect is not credulity, but
our habitual forgetfulness that our science is ignorance."
Henry David Thoreau, Journals, March 5, 1860.

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