[Taxacom] Are species real? Doesn't matter.

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Thu May 31 11:36:42 CDT 2007

>I think we have the nominalism/realism divide here in taxonomy, with
>alpha taxonomists worrying and arguing over their interpretations,
>preferring to always cite alternative concepts, while databasers (e.g.
>EoL) deal with what they prefer to consider real things, one of each.
>Oh, sure, we are all scientific realists of a sort, but differ in what
>we worry about.

It matters to more than just practicing taxonomists and "databasers", 
and I think you are downplaying how vastly asymmetrical the dichotomy 
is here; there are far, FAR more people in the world whose need for 
taxonomic information requires it to be as consistent, objective, and 
unambiguous as possible. For one of the simplest such observations, 
and one close at hand, is the fact that every specimen in every 
museum in the world that has been identified to species is filed 
under a single name. I have yet to see an institution that maintains 
specimens in multiple places in their collection if there are 
multiple alternative opinions as to what name should be applied. It 
is also true that there are probably no two institutions in existence 
who have the same names applied to ALL of the taxa that they have in 
common; that is why a "rosetta stone" taxonomic resource is essential 
to the future of collections-based research - so multiple collections 
can compare their holdings and accurately assess where they overlap 
and where they differ, without being thrown off by idiosyncrasies 
introduced by alternative classifications.

If you wish to draw analogies, then why not use quantum physics? It's 
fine for some people to think about an electron as a cloud of energy 
whose location and definition in space/time is probabilistic, but for 
most people, they need to treat it as a particle.


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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