[Taxacom] Economist leader addressed to taxonomists

pierre deleporte pierre.deleporte at univ-rennes1.fr
Fri May 18 08:36:23 CDT 2007

In the article, there is a clear underestimation of the "true discoveries" 
on the increasing number of "species".

Now, the point that several classifications and delineations are possible 
is perfectly correct on general grounds, and this effectively vails for 
economy, sociology and biology as well. Protestants are no more a 
homogeneous category than taxonomists.

Concerning conservation decisions, ideally the lawyer should be aware that 
"species" is not a biological universal category, while "taxon" is nearly 
anything you like... or, much better, anything you need, based on 
everything you know at the present time.

Hence you have to document life diversity (the more exhaustively and the 
finer the better for the largest range of imaginable purposes), but you 
have to clarify the specification for this or that possible application of 
taxonomy: conservation (of what and why ? there is a huge range of possible 
notions of "conservation"), toxicology, pharmacology, horticulture...

Only then can the taxonomist suggest relevant taxonomic categories and 
delineations for a specific use (elephant, African elephant, Namibian 
population of African elephant... taxus, European versus Australian 
taxus...). These delineations can make, or not make, some relevant 
difference according to different problems at stake...

The linnaean heritage seems ambiguous in this respect: a sense of 
"classifying for practical use" (relevant, even if Linneaus' sense of 
economy is not the only way of viewing "practical use"), and the notion of 
"unique, self-evident order in Nature" (idealist illusion, echoed by 
positivist illusions in more recent times).

As for strategies of biologists regarding decision-makers: every one of us 
is a citizen and a scientist at the same time, and maybe we better not mix 
up the two things, if this is also part of the message in the incriminated 
A colleague of mine is scientific consultant for gestion of big game 
populations (local politics and game administration). His predecessors 
tended to try and give lessons of absolute protectionism all the time. They 
were clearly viewed as bothering extremists. Hence he suprised the deciders 
when, questioned as for his point of view about what to do with the 
concerned populations, he said that he had none, as a biologist consultant. 
He asked them instead: "what do you want to do? increase the populations? 
improve the age-classes structure? maintain them like that? reduce them to 
nearly nothing? exterminate them all quick and well? As a biologist I can 
give you hints for this or that perpective, but you are the deciders, you 
are entirely responsible of your goals, please write them down clearly". 
 From this time on, he got surprisingly good ear from the deciders, and 
nice results. Deciders simply would not write down "exterminate them all", 
nor "maintain ridiculous population size and age structure".

If deciders could tell the taxonomists what they want, the splitter/joiner 
game of bluff would hopefully be replaced by more reasonable, open 
argument. And a more consensual base for asking for funding up to the 

Now, you can say I'm a dreamer...

cheers anyway

A 10:15 18/05/2007 +0100, Roderic page wrote :

>Why not think about responding in terms the audience might
>appreciate? I wonder, for example, whether there are parallels
>between biologists making bad decisions based on misunderstanding
>relationships between organisms, and business failing because their
>supposedly homogeneous target market of, say, "teenagers", turned out
>to be highly heterogeneous (niche marketing, anyone?).
>One could even draw parallels with recent foreign policy decisions,
>based an appalling lack of understanding that "muslims" are not a
>homogeneous category.

Pierre Deleporte
CNRS UMR 6552 - Station Biologique de Paimpont
F-35380 Paimpont   FRANCE
Téléphone : 02 99 61 81 63
Télécopie : 02 99 61 81 88

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