[Taxacom] Economist leader addressed to taxonomists
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...
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
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