Time to update taxonomy? - A thought experiment.

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Sun Feb 2 08:33:16 CST 2003

> I have yet to be convinced that gathering enormous qauantities of genetic
> data will result in a greater understanding of the natural world.

I was referring to the notion of a human-genome-style sequence of every
*individual organism* on Earth -- which was the original premise of the
thought experiment.  Obviously, that's ludicrous -- so maybe something more
realistic over the next century would be a whole-genome sequence of multiple
representatives of every population of every "species" on Earth.  My comment
was made with the premise that by obtaining all of that information, we
would, in the process, come to understand how to translate genotype into
phenotype, to the full extent that phenotype is genetically dictated.  From
that level of understanding, I imagine that we could do a whole lot more
than simply speculate about evolutionary histories.

> As for the shortcomings of the Linnaean system, I'm not at all
> sure that any
> other system will have fewer. (Just how many people do you know who are
> still using those old, unrememberable Compuserve e-mail addresses?)  If
> communication is our goal, we should stick to a proven system that can be
> used with a variety of media by most people in the world.

Don't get me wrong -- I consider myself a champion of the Linnean system,
and plan to continue to use it to communicate the findings of my own
research for as long as it, and I, survive.  My point was that this system
of nomenclature has been streched to accomodate communicative needs that
were not even imagined at the time the system was created.  It has certainly
been very useful for the past 250 years, and there's no reason to think that
such use will in anyway diminish over the next 250 years.  But we're at a
point now when new fields of research are evidently finding it increasingly
awkward to progress and communicate with each other when confined to this
system as a platform of communication. Why make their lives (and ours) more
difficult by opposing their plans to establish their own means of
communication?  I know, I know....overwhelming confusion....mass
hysteria....dogs and cats living together peacfully....the end of society as
we know it.....yadda, yadda.  Maybe my sarchasim is unwarranted -- maybe it
really would lead to confusion both within science and the public at large.
Maybe something like Ken's approach (adding a layer of modifiers to the
existing system) would be better. We've been down this road before on this
list, and I don't particularly want to go down it again -- so I'll let it

I mostly wanted to qualify my original comment about how having complete
genome sequences of every species on Earth would consitute greater total
knowledge and understanding than the current body of nomenclature and
historical taxonomy for perhaps 10% of species on Earth has yielded.


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