[Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Thu Jun 4 17:09:54 CDT 2009

I agree with Peter DeVries about the need to update skills. I remember when, oh so long ago, taxonomists were downright proud to be jack-of-all-trades as far as techniques went, reveling in the ability to use chromosome squashes, cultivation in common gardens and reciprocal transplants, emerging blue from a walk-in freezer with a tiny tube of DNA, struggling with phenetic analysis and MANOVA and whatnot. 
Learning molecular analysis is not hard, and the techniques are more cut-and-dried than choosing a statistical method (Gower's? Mahalonobis?) and certainly more intuitive than the codes of nomenclature. I think if the associated baggage of classification by holophyly is eliminated, molecular analysis will be just another technique in evolutionary taxonomy that we use to reconstruct lineage linkages and isolation events.
Richard H. Zander
Missouri Botanical Garden
PO Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166 U.S.A.
richard.zander at mobot.org


From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu on behalf of Peter DeVries
Sent: Thu 6/4/2009 1:11 PM
To: Kleo Pullin
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

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

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

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.


- Pete

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