[Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Peter DeVries pete.devries at gmail.com
Thu Jun 4 13:11:06 CDT 2009


I think there are two issues that contribute to this problem
1) Marketing - Taxonomists are not very good at demonstrating how their work
is valuable. Look at how the Hubble Telescope has changed how people think
of Astronomy.

2) Culture - In the middle part of my scientific career I helped develop
microscopes and microscopy techniques. In that culture, if you had a
potentially good idea people were excited and willing to try it out. In some
cases, these were very successful. When I moved back into science from
network administration I thought wow, here is an area that could really
benefit from a number of tools I would like to develop. Unlike my previous
experience, I found a number of people unwilling to change the way the did
things even if it made them dramatically more productive. Some were even
down right hostile, implying that I was not a "real" entomologist. At the
time I thought, they don't seem to think that fruit fly embryo's are
insects.

Scientists in other fields are forced to continually update their skills and
techniques.

I think that if taxonomy is going to continue to thrive, the community will
need to be more accepting of new ideas, techniques and technology.

Respectfully,

- Pete

On Tue, Jun 2, 2009 at 7:30 PM, Kleo Pullin <kleopullin at pacbell.net> wrote:

>
> One of the most disappointing aspects of the loss of field work, is that
> the story about Cognato and Hulcr studying the bark beetles is a compelling
> transfer of knowledge from the scientist to the public, but the search for
> GCAT is not so compelling as felling trees and watching for fungi and
> beetles.  Losing taxonomists, scientists who intensely study the morphology
> and ecology of organisms, and replacing them by scientists who intensely
> study the genetic code of organisms may not maintain funding for the
> sciences in the long run, because it potentially distances federally funded
> scientists from their audience.  And the audience is not solely or even
> largely other scientists, it is also the people who use the science to make
> decisions, and the people who live in the world impacted by the information.
>  Global biodiversity impacts human beings, but showing policy makers this
> impact through genetics alone when all the taxonomists are gone will be a
> hard
>  sell.
>
> I am job hunting after finishing electron microscopy school, and, while I
> would love to do nothing but shoot electron micrographs of fossil and extant
> angiosperms, that's not going to happen. The really exciting job I found?
>  In a light microscopy lab studying the genetics of a model organism.  My
> first thought, after what a thrilling suite of state-of-the-art light
> microscopes, was that I could probably also find a way to learn all the
> state-of-the-art molecular biology techniques if I worked there...  From a
> student perspective you can't afford to ignore the current direction.
>
> On the plus side, ecology seems to be a more important science today than
> it was a few decades ago.
>
> Kleo Pullin, student
>
>
>
>
> --- On Tue, 6/2/09, John Grehan <jgrehan at sciencebuff.org> wrote:
>
> > From: John Grehan <jgrehan at sciencebuff.org>
> > Subject: [Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy
> > To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> > Date: Tuesday, June 2, 2009, 10:22 AM
> > 'The Scientist' Volume 23 | Issue 6 |
> > Page 32 ran a nicely depressing
> > article on the decline of morphological systematics.
> > Something that I
> > have seen go steadily down the drain over the last thee
> > decades.
> >
> >
> >
> > Some quotes from the article - including some that show how
> > the PEET
> > program was like closing the door after everyone already
> > left.
> >
> >
> >
> > In some sense, administrators are justified in shunning
> > taxonomists when
> > it comes time to hire new faculty. A taxonomist has access
> > to
> > essentially a fraction of a percentage of the NSF budget,
> > while a
> > molecular biologist has at her fingertips the budget from
> > the National
> > Institutes of Health, typically four times larger than the
> > NSF's. "If
> > your objective is just to get a job, you probably shouldn't
> > be in
> > taxonomy at all, molecular or descriptive," said
> > Holzenthal.
> >
> > However, there are fewer and fewer biologists who practice
> > traditional
> > taxonomy, or the collection, description, naming and
> > categorization of
> > organisms through intense study of their physical
> > attributes. In
> > general, the field of taxonomy, or systematics as it is
> > often called,
> > has been leaning towards the molecular end of the spectrum
> > since genetic
> > technology matured in the late 1970s and 1980s, and
> > traditional
> > taxonomic skills have been dwindling as older taxonomic
> > experts retire.
> > Many taxonomists blend traditional methods, such as
> > morphological and
> > behavioral study, with modern molecular techniques, such as
> > DNA
> > sequencing, to fully characterize their pet taxa. But
> > taxonomists like
> > Cognato and Hulcr, who rely on fieldwork and morphological
> > study as core
> > aspects of their taxonomic work, appear to be slowly going
> > extinct.
> >
> > The PEET program doled out its first round of grants in
> > 1995 in the face
> > of a rapid decline of experts in the field. An NSF survey
> > conducted in
> > the mid-1990s found only 940 systematic biologists working
> > at
> > doctorate-granting institutions, and one quarter of those
> > were only
> > adjunct faculty members. More than 80% of the institutions
> > that
> > responded to the NSF survey said that they would not hire
> > systematists
> > in the future if new positions opened up.2
> > <http://www.the-scientist.com/templates/trackable/display/article1.jsp?a
> > _day=1&index=1&year=2009&page=32&month=06&o_url=2009/06/1/32/1#Reference
> > _Anchor#Reference_Anchor>  "
> >
> > When Pricila Chaverri arrived at the University of Maryland
> > about a year
> > ago with a PEET grant in hand, she advertised on campus
> > for
> > undergraduate students to work on revising the taxonomy of
> > fungi in the
> > order Hypocreales, which she studies. Herself a graduate of
> > the PEET
> > program, she waited for the expressions of interest to roll
> > in. None
> > came. Frustrated, she changed her advertisement to
> > highlight the fact
> > that students would also learn molecular techniques, such
> > as PCR and DNA
> > sequence analysis, as they sought to fully characterize
> > fungal specimens
> > in her lab. "I got, like, a hundred applications," Chaverri
> > recalls.
> > "And they all wanted to learn molecular biology."
> >
> > "As it is now," one survey respondent wrote, "[PEET] trains
> > students in
> > skills absolutely not required by the job market."
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > John Grehan
> >
> >
> >
> > Dr. John R. Grehan
> >
> > Director of Science
> >
> > Buffalo Museum of Science1020 Humboldt Parkway
> >
> > Buffalo, NY 14211-1193
> >
> > email: jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
> >
> > Phone: (716) 896-5200 ext 372
> >
> >
> >
> > Panbiogeography
> >
> > http://www.sciencebuff.org/biogeography_and_evolutionary_biology.php
> >
> > Ghost moth research
> >
> > http://www.sciencebuff.org/systematics_and_evolution_of_hepialdiae.php
> >
> > Human evolution and the great apes
> >
> > http://www.sciencebuff.org/human_origin_and_the_great_apes.php
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> >
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> >
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> >
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> >
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> > terms here
> >
>
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>
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>
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>



-- 
---------------------------------------------------------------
Pete DeVries
Department of Entomology
University of Wisconsin - Madison
445 Russell Laboratories
1630 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706
------------------------------------------------------------



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