[Taxacom] Economist leader addressed to taxonomists [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

jrc jrc at anbg.gov.au
Thu May 17 20:22:47 CDT 2007

Thanks Richard - I too had an uneasy feeling as I read the article, but it
was a sort of 'inconvenient truth' moment rather that one of outrage that
our profession had been had been maligned, and after reading a couple of
negative poste on Taxacom had to go an read it again.  Sure, it could have
done with a bit of balance on taxonomy's positive contribution to (indeed,
essential foundation for) conservation, but the basic message of not
devaluing the currency of our work through external motives and agendas
needs to be heeded.

Who among us doesn't engage every year in intense, earnest, even vitriolic
discussion and commentary with colleagues about delimitating taxa, needless
splitting, injudicious lumping and so on?  This shouldn't be, and in most
cases isn't, about personal preference; it is about best fit with evidence.
It is just part of the business of achieving the common understanding and
consensus that enables scientific communication.  

We can all point to examples where the proliferation of esoterically and
cryptically defined species exceeds the community's willingness to accept.
Documenting (and dealing with?) these is part of the business of projects
such as the Australian Plant Census, and soon the EoL.

In Australia we are very familiar with the impact of ill-motivated taxonomy.
Like underarm bowling against New Zealand in an international cricket match
that we will never speak of, the publications of Wells and Wellington (for
example) are the sorts of things that as a nation we do not want to recall (
see, for example, p. 925 in the following:
icon.pdf ).  This is just one end of the broad spectrum of activity that has
the potential to enhance or to devalue taxonomy.

The commentary on the perceived 'value' of subspecies opposed to subspecies
(or varieties) documents an interesting and widely held view - it is an
argument I have often, usually involving raised voices, waving of arms and
high blood pressure.  Policy makers always want to work with the numbers of
'species', threatened 'species' and so on.  I regard this as next to
meaningless in a biological sense and try to convince them that that they
should really be asking about 'taxa'.  Sometimes this goes well; sometimes
it gets ugly... :) 


-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Pyle
Sent: Friday, 18 May 2007 6:38 AM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Economist leader addressed to taxonomists

I read this article with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt it was a
GROSS misrepresentation of the intentions of the VAST majority of practicing
taxonomists.  It would be naïve to assume that decisions about drawing
species lines were never influenced by corresponding implications towards
law and conservation policy; but the most extensive taxonomic "inflation" is
going to come from the opposite side of the spectrum from charismatic
megafauna (i.e., from the microbial world).

On the other hand, I think there were messages in there that we might not
want to simply reject and ignore outright. Specifically -- the issue of how
we are perceived by the outside community.  Other than this email list
(Taxacom) and a few other venues, we really don't have a broad sense of
cohesion in our field that is both perceived by the outside world as
prominent and well organized, and is widely inclusive of participation from
large numbers of taxonomists from different disciplines.  This is the sort
of thing I was alluding to as what I saw the single greatest value of the
EoL initiative to the taxonomists on the ground.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of colin favret
> Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2007 8:31 AM
> To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: [Taxacom] Economist leader addressed to taxonomists
> I thought this editorial on species inflation might be of 
> interest to some here. cheer, colin
> http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9191545
> -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
> Colin Favret
> Aphidologist at large
> crf at uiuc.edu
> _______________________________________________
> Taxacom mailing list
> Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/mailman/listinfo/taxacom

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