systematics V taxonomy

B.J.Tindall bti at DSMZ.DE
Fri Sep 6 08:20:49 CDT 2002

A leading microbiologist (S.T.Cowan) worte "A dictionary of taxonomic
usage" - last edition 1978 - where such terms are also listed - with
reference to both Simpson and Mayr. Under the term "taxonomy" he writes:

"Taxonomy means all things to all men but never the same thing to all men."

The "general" understanding of the term taxonomy in microbiology is the
elements of characterisation, classification and nomenclature.
Identification certainly requires an existing taxonomy (at least an
existing classification - and if you need names, then also the nomenclature
which results), but I would suggest that taxonomy can exist without
identification, but identification depends on a taxonomy.  There is a
tendancy to use systematics in the sense of Simpson and Mayr, in which
taxonomy is part of systematics.

At 01:43 6.9.2002 -0400, John McNeill wrote:
>Interesting to see that, insofar as the terms are distinguished, the G.G.
Simpson distinction provides the basis; in the morning light I remember
that his definition of Systematics was " the study of the kinds and
diversity (NOT populations) of organisms and of any and all relationships
between them", whereas I think I quoted Taxonomy more correctly as " the
study of the principles and practice of classification" -- but all still
from memory.  John McNeill
>John McNeill, Director Emeritus, Royal Ontario Museum;
>    Honorary Associate ,Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
>Mailing address:  Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, EH3 5LR, Scotland, U.K.
>Telephone:    +44-131-248-2912;  fax: +44-131-248-2901
>Home office:  +44-162-088-0651;  fax: +44-162-088-0342
>e-mail: jmcneill at (johnm at is also read)
>>>> Mary Barkworth <Mary at BIOLOGY.USU.EDU> 09/05/02 19:01 PM >>>
>My flippant response is that systematics was introduced because taxonomy
>was viewed as ancient, archaic and dead and systematics was new,
>experimental, more open-minded, and more scientific.  Name changes are
>important, particularly in countries where PR dominates.
>Having said that, my take is that taxonomy slants towards identifying
>groups (taxa) - but in doing so should consider all relevant information
>(which requires trying to understand information from many different
>fields) whereas systemaics slants more to understanding relationships
>and evolutionary processes, again employing and evaluating data from a
>wide range of disciplines.
>In other words, I think that there is a difference in intrpretation,
>but I like to think of them as reflecting different emphases rather than
>different disciplines.
>So now everyone has something to shoot at.
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Susan B. Farmer [mailto:sfarmer at GOLDSWORD.COM]
>Sent: Thursday, September 05, 2002 3:01 PM
>Subject: systematics V taxonomy
>Several grad students were sitting around discussing/debating the
>differences between systematics and taxonomy.  Are there *really*
>any differences, or is the distincting mostly semantic?
>Susan, curious in Tennessee
>Susan Farmer
>sfarmer at
>Botany Department, University of Tennessee

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