[Taxacom] paraphylophobia again

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Mon Jul 20 18:24:31 CDT 2009


I see we are in agreement - which is good. I get particularly tetchy  
about these "economic" issues. Let me explain why:


With reference to the above propaganda (I mean link!), a significant  
proportion of that $19m in public money goes to the scientists of NZAC  
(New Zealand Arthropod Collection). I seem to be the only one around  
here who is alarmed by the fact that since 31 Dec 2007, only a single  
new species of New Zealand insect has been described by an NZAC  
scientist, and even then as second author to an Australian  
entomologist! Instead, we get inconclusive phylogenetic work, plus  
endless catalogues and repackaged literature reviews, not to mention  
webkeys to already published (decades ago) taxonomy (one of which says  
that the best way to identify certain cicadas to species is to find a  
male singing while in cop!) Yet more money recently wasted hiring a  
helicopter (from much further away than need be) to go to a group of  
offshore islands that have already been thoroughly collected, only to  
find nothing significant!) What is worse is that in order to secure  
that funding (more this time than ususual), NZAC had to convince the  
funding body that they had everything in order. Part of that was to  
terminate my access, where I had been a volunteer for many years, on  
the pretext that I had signed an agreement (without having any choice)  
limiting my times of access in unusually stringent ways. In the end,  
and after nearly a decade of volunteer service, I was basically thrown  
out for being there at 5.30pm when I should have left at 5pm! Am I  
bitter? As bitter as bitter almonds ... I voluntarily sorted and  
identified more specimens in NZAC than all the other current  
scientists put together - for the good of the country, or so I  
thought! Now they want to keep the collection as unsorted as possible,  
so that they can secure an endless supply of public funding to sort it  
in painfully small bits!



Quoting Barry Roth <barry_roth at yahoo.com>:

> Stephen, thank you for your reply and for the citations.  I might  
> also admit that I was commenting on an essentially peripheral aspect  
> of your posting, and that I do not disagree with the core of your  
> argument.  It is apparent to me that in order for the gigantic task  
> of formal description of undescribed species -- or even the smaller  
> but more urgent subset of species which are at imminent risk and add  
> their weight to local conservation efforts -- to progress, a new  
> economic model must come into play.  Information may, as Stewart  
> Brand said, "want to be free," but the infrastructure for collecting  
> and disseminating it wants and needs compensation.  In this case,  
> that means taxonomists and the journals that publish their work  
> product.  See a related discussion by Malcolm Gladwell  
> (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/07/06/090706crbo_books_gladwell) with respect to news content.  The users who benefit from the content should  
> support
>  that infrastructure.
> Barry Roth
> --- On Mon, 7/20/09, Stephen Thorpe <s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz> wrote:
> [Barry Roth] How about finding one synapomorphy uniquely shared by  
> Strepsiptera and a subgroup of Insecta?
> [reply] What if (a conclusive) one can't be found? How long should  
> we keep looking? How much funding should we chew up in the process?  
> How many other productive lines of biological enquiry should we give  
> up? Let's all stop what we are doing and search for a synapomorphy  
> linking Streps to another group of insecta! :)
> [Barry Roth] Without imputing any kind of superstitious outlook to  
> Stephen, this reminds me of the demands of creationists for  
> "transitional forms."
> [reply] I am glad you are not imputing any kind of superstitious  
> outlook to me! The specifics of the Streps problem are what makes it  
> appropriate to look for fossil intermediates, for no other approach  
> has worked. You need to read up on recent literature on the topic,  
> such as:
> Pohl, H.; Beutel, R.G.; Kinzelbach, R. 2005: Protoxenidae fam. nov.  
> (Insecta, Strepsiptera) from Baltic amber ? a 'missing link' in  
> strepsipteran phylogeny. Zoologica scripta, 34: 57-69.
> and also:
> Pohl, H.; Beutel, R.G. 2008: The evolution of Strepsiptera  
> (Hexapoda). Zoology, 111: 318-338.
> In short: creationism sux, but so does science when it gets too  
> obsessed with answering intractable problems of phylogeny - so why  
> don't we reassess our priorities and do something relatively  
> neutral, like documenting the world's biodiversity? There are many  
> hundreds of undescribed beetles here in N.Z., for example, but at  
> current rates and trends, I fear that they will NEVER all be  
> described...and all the funding is going down the sinks of those for  
> whom Hennig is God (or Yahweh)!
> S
> Quoting Barry Roth <barry_roth at yahoo.com>:
>> How about finding one synapomorphy uniquely shared by Strepsiptera  
>> and a subgroup of Insecta?  I'm sorry, but the "search for a  
>> missing link" model below seems too limiting.  We estimate  
>> phylogenetic relationships of many (probably most) groups of  
>> organisms without having intermediates.  Indeed, intermediates  
>> present their own kind of taxonomic problem.  Without imputing any  
>> kind of superstitious outlook to Stephen, this reminds me of the  
>> demands of creationists for "transitional forms."
>> Barry Roth
>> --- On Sun, 7/19/09, Stephen Thorpe <s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz> wrote:
>> The general problem is knowing when to stop and move on to something 
>> more productive. Take the Strepsiptera problem, for example. A huge 
>> amount of time and resources goes into trying to work out the 
>> phylogenetic position of Strepsiptera within Insecta, but it cannot be 
>> conclusively solved until a fossil is found which is half-way between 
>> a strep and something else.
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