[Taxacom] Economist leader addressed to taxonomists

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Fri May 18 11:34:46 CDT 2007

I would actually encourage as many individuals as possible here to 
send in their own letters to the editor (letters at economist.com) in 
response to the "Hail Linnaeus" article. Trust me on this, if you 
want editors to pay attention, the best way is to flood them with 
emails; 50 short responses is far, FAR more impressive and persuasive 
than a single letter signed by 50 people. I already sent in a 
personal response, and do believe there is benefit to many letters, 
sent in ASAP.

Pierre Deleporte made one of the most significant suggestions 
regarding a positive message to convey:

>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

As this reinforces the idea that the taxonomists are only supplying 
information, but how the conservationists (or their counterparts) use 
this information is an entirely different matter; but it means that 
it is IMPORTANT that the taxonomy be as accurate assessment of an 
organism's status, so it behooves everyone involved to support good 
taxonomic practices (including things such as peer review).

A confounding point is raised, however, when Pierre points out:

>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.

Which brings me to a message I think several people need to express - 
namely, that if the author of the article sees a problem, it is 
because he is thinking like a lawyer, and paying more attention to 
the letter of the law than to the spirit. In other words, the 
"problem" exists only so long as the legislation to protect organisms 
is FORMALLY LINKED to the Biological Species Concept; if the lawyers 
sat down and drafted a new, improved set of rules that assign 
protection to habitats, for example (using criteria such as, say, 
degree of endemicity of flora/fauna, or the size of the known 
distributions of organisms found therein), then whether or not the 
taxa involved are SPECIES would be rendered largely insignificant.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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