Blaming the victim (the Linnaean Method)

Dipteryx dipteryx at FREELER.NL
Fri Feb 7 07:36:55 CST 2003

Higher ranks are pretty much information-less.

As a botanist I am quite familiar with Angiosperms, but if asked if these
were the Magnoliopsida or the Magnoliophyta I would need to take a few
minutes (and perhaps a book). These names are likely to change anyway.

Ginkgo biloba is a species. It is also a genus, a family and any number of
taxa at higher ranks. All equally meaningless (for practical purposes).
Paul van Rijckevorsel
Utrecht, NL

----- Original Message -----
From: Kipling Will <kiplingw at NATURE.BERKELEY.EDU>
Sent: Friday, February 07, 2003 12:30 AM
Subject: Re: Blaming the victim (the Linnaean System)

> As you say the non-expert knows he/she has an Insect and so can
> immediately discount all other Classes of Animals that are in other
> parts of the book or library. Not so with a rank-less system since
> Insecta could mean any part of the hierarchy from populations to all
> life. It makes no exclusive statement without a rank or without a
> phylogeny at hand. Ranks are not so information rich as the cladogram,
> but they are not empty of information content either.
> Kip Will
> "Frederick W. Schueler" wrote:
> snip...
> > Your non-expert doesn't go to the hierarchy of category names, he goes
> > to the hierarchy of names.  I've never seen a library with a shelf
> > labelled 'keys to genera.' Categories only figure at the lower end of
> > titles of keys, "A key to the genera of x-iformes of y-bekistan"  - the
> > higher end is always marked by the *name* of the group being identified.
> > Say the non-expert has found something he thinks is an Insect - he
> > doesn't look for "phyla, subphyla, or classes of things" (since we can't
> > be sure from decade to decade which the Insecta may be) he looks for a
> > key to the Insects, checks that his specimen fits the diagnosis of the
> > group, and keys his way down to whatever level that key peters out for
> > his particular specimen. Then he looks for a key to the, say,
> > Staphylinidae of his particular region - and so on until he's identified
> > the creature to the level he wants, or gives up in confusion.
> --
> Assistant Professor/Insect Systematist
> ESPM--Division of Insect Biology
> University of California
> 201 Wellman Hall
> Berkeley, CA  94720-3112
> Office (510)642-4296
> Main office(510)642-3327
> FAX (510)642-7428
> ---
> _   _ _
>  \ | /
> }@((]))
> _/ |_\_

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From:         Wayne Maddison <wmaddisn at U.ARIZONA.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Disappearance
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Along similar themes, you might find the following interesting:

Wilson EO. 1985. The biological diversity crisis: A challenge to science.
Issues in Science and Technology 2: 20-29.
-- explains the value of exploring biological diversity; notes that
whenever an interesting phenomenon is discovered by a systematist or
organism-focused researcher, its study is usually taken over by a
question-oriented biologist, whose field then gets sole credit for
the progress in our understanding.

Futuyma, DJ 1998. Wherefore and whither the naturalist? American
Naturalist. 151:1-6.
-- discusses the value of natural history and organism-centered research.

Maddison, W.P.  1996. Molecular approaches and the growth of
phylogenetic biology.  In:  Molecular zoology: Advances, strategies,
and protocols (J.D. Ferraris and S.R. Palumbi, eds.). Pages 47-63.
Wiley-Liss, New York
-- discusses how systematics per se and organism-centered research in
general may be a casualty of the apparent ease of and interest in
phylogenetic biology.

>Ken Kinman provided a source for the text of "The Disappearance" -
>  <>
>I recommend it highly to those who haven't seen it. By the way, the above is
>just a URL, not a link.


Wayne Maddison               Associate Professor
Department of Ecology        email: wmaddisn at
   and Evolutionary Biology   phone: (520) 621-7218
University of Arizona        FAX: (520) 621-9190
Tucson, AZ   85721

Tree of Life:

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