[Taxacom] The only systematics

Kenneth Kinman kennethkinman at webtv.net
Wed Feb 25 20:00:02 CST 2009

Dear All,
     I have to disagree with Norman on whether or not this is a problem
at NSF.  I did a search on three categories of awards.  Phylogenetic
Systematics yielded 1,642 awards, Biodiversity Surveys and Inventories
yielded 444 awards, and Evolutionary Genetics 66 awards.        
      Categorizing your project as Phylogenetic Systematics clearly
gives you an edge over other categories.  Seems like Biodiversity and
Inventories should be the front runner given today's extinction
problems.  Would you rather pay people to be out in the field
discovering new species or spending a lot of time doing computer
analyses that may or may not produce reliable phylogenies?     
      And would you rather see an emphasis on living organisms, or on
things like dinosaur fossils (which require a hugely inordinate amount
of preparation time for just a single specimen of a species already
well-documented).  Dinosaur systematics is at the very epicenter of
PhyloCode, and thus support for dinosaur systematics no doubt indirectly
encourages PhyloCode.  Think about this:  Would you rather see a several
thousand new living organisms described by a larger group of
taxonomists, or few people concentrating on a yet another new specimen
of Tyrannosaurus rex?        
        Like all other governmental agencies, NSF needs to reevaluate
its priorities.  Attaching the word "phylogenetic" to a proposal might
make it more appealing to some, but maybe it is a bit like attaching the
word "natural" to a food product.  In other words, it might just be
meaningless "PR".  If the proposals indicate an inordinate amount of
time running computer analyses, rather than actually studying living
organisms, maybe they shouldn't get as much funding.  And as fond as I
am personally on the systematics of theropod dinosaurs, we have to give
priority to the living species we are killing off.  Spending months or
even years on a single fossil specimen has often become a case of
diminishing returns.  Collecting fossils should continue, but the time
has finally come for extremely time-consuming preparation to take a back
seat to studying living organisms.  
       --------Ken Kinman

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