[Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Wed Jun 17 02:06:40 CDT 2009


Hi, Dean.

I'm not sure what you've said supports Donat. Slowing the decline of a professional discipline, or preventing it from dying altogether, isn't the same as revitalising it and increasing the number of its professional workers.

But digitisation is not only a good idea, it is absolutely *essential* if taxonomy is to transform itself. For a very long time taxonomy has been, and still is, something mainly done by institution-based professionals. That needs to change. A great deal (not all, but a lot) of the hand-wringing about the decline of taxonomy is actually despair at the prospects for institution-based professionals in future. As I've said before, this is confusing taxonomists with taxonomy. The fundamental unit of taxonomy isn't a person, it's a taxonomic action, which in the broad sense includes identification as well as publication.

There is no reason why Web-based communities of professionals, amateurs and other volunteers cannot generate taxonomic actions: correct identifications, and Code-compliant, high-quality publications. The Google Groups discussion calls this 'open taxonomy', but you could also call it 'distributed taxonomy'. Digitisation and good project management are prerequisites. The biggest obstacle I'm seeing at the moment is the entrenched attitude that 'taxonomy' somehow equates to 'professional taxonomists'.

Fewer professionals could mean increased output, if those professionals are willing to participate in projects that use the enormous human resources online.
-- 
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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