[Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Tue Jun 16 23:14:47 CDT 2009

"The major limiting factor in taxonomic productivity is the number of
taxonomic workers, not how fast they work."

Without having all the data at hand, I would dare to say that we get more
taxonomists working by offering them a first class cyber infrastructure:
Access to complete catalogues, all the literature digitized and cross
referenced and linked to the catalogues, standard visual documentation of
all the taxa and increasingly for any new specimen, DNA sequence data, and
proper descriptions on how to created modern revisions.

It seems that this set up attracts new people as we observe this in the ant
community and their output, interest of other groups such as the CBOL to
join forces to barcode all the ants of a particular region (eg madagascar).
And it attracts people well beyond the developed world, since it allows
people in the developing world to catch up with the newest status in
taxonomy. Since imaging and DNA sequencing is increasingly becoming cheaper,
there are also discussion that institutions like CBOL might do the barcoding
of any new species for free, or the California Academy of Sciences the
imaging of types and other specimens for those that can not produce these
data by themselves.

What it means from our taxonomic end is that we really make all the data we
produce discoverable over the Internet, so that they can be automatically
linked, or better submitted to shared databases such as Zoobank in Zoology,
that then can serve as entry point.

In this respect, the issues is that taxonomists better reconsider how they
work - which at the end is to their own benefit, since it saves them a lot
of time, eg by not having to go to libraries, triaging through many type
specimens, etc.


-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Bob Mesibov
Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 8:18 AM
To: pete.devries at gmail.com
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Peter de Vries wrote:

"Wouldn't something like this [LifeDesks] dramatically improve productivity
and the accessibility of taxonomic revisions?"

Dramatically? That depends on what the slowest steps are in the taxonomic
process. If those slow steps are collecting and documenting specimens,
comparing specimens, looking for specimen characters to assist
identification and classification, testing the usefulness of those
characters, etc., then no, there won't be a dramatic improvement in
productivity. If the slowest steps are going to the library to look up paper
references, corresponding with colleagues and travelling to look at types,
then the answer is 'Maybe'.

The major limiting factor in taxonomic productivity is the number of
taxonomic workers, not how fast they work. This thread is really about the
decline and fall of taxonomists. If we want a dramatic improvement in
productivity, we need to greatly increase the number of taxonomic workers
who aren't taxonomists. I've opened a discussion group on how this might be


Please consider joining the group only if you want to work towards that
goal. If you think it's a dumb idea, please argue your case on TAXACOM.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Website: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html


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