Where are all the systematists?

Thomas Lammers lammers at VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU
Wed Jun 19 14:45:17 CDT 2002

At the risk of seeming immodest, I will refer you to my previous comments
on this topic in Systematic Botany 24: 494-496 (1999), "Plant Systematics
Today: All Our Eggs in One Basket?" [which began life as a post on Taxacom,
incidentally].  Some of these same points are raised there.  Les Landrum,
IIRC, has published a similar commentary in a later issue of the journal
(sorry, don't have the ref at hand).

To date, no one has challenged a single statement made there in print,
which I am content to accept as tacit admission that I am right, that our
monomaniacal fixation on cladistic analysis of DNA data is not a good thing.

At 01:56 PM 6/19/02 -0400, Eric Dunbar wrote:

>As a current MSc student (not involved in taxonomy/systematics (though, my
>supervisor is)), I'd have to say that dealing with the "messy" groups
>isn't that academically enticing anymore and seems not to lead to
>opportunities in academia. The two taxonomists I've seen retire at local
>universities (south western Ontario) have been replaced by much more sexy
>molecular biologists or plant physiologists not at all involved in
>I can't speak for the faculty comprising the hiring committees but it seems
>like the ability to identify (an expertise of a skilled
>systematist/taxonomist) existing organisms or detecting (& thus
>describing) novel taxa or relationships isn't highly valued in a highly
>artificial experimental environment (how much of a taxonomist do you have
>to be to tell
>your _Arabidopsis thaliana_ from your _Oxalis_ in the glasshouse ;)
>Plus, it's quite an investment of a student's life to work in a "messy"
>group that may not lead to a career in taxonomy, especially when (whether
>rightly or wrongly) the perception among the general biological population
>(students certainly; faculty too?) is that these relationships will
>[eventually] (the ugly head of mechanistic philosophy raises its head
>again ;) be resolved by throwing DNA into a sequencer, running them
>through PAUP* and generating phylogenies with greater and greater
>bootstrap values, until eventually they approximate what happened
>(reticulate evolution be damned

Thomas G. Lammers, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor and Curator of the Herbarium (OSH)
Department of Biology and Microbiology
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901-8640 USA

e-mail:       lammers at uwosh.edu
phone:      920-424-1002
fax:           920-424-1101

Plant systematics; classification, nomenclature, evolution, and biogeography
of the Campanulaceae s. lat.

"Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that stood his ground."
                                                               -- Anonymous

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