[Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Peter DeVries pete.devries at gmail.com
Wed Jun 17 19:15:20 CDT 2009

Hi Maarten,
I am sorry for the confusion. I was trying to address how taxonomy is
perceived and in some cases misunderstood.

I think it would help if this process was more clearly understood by

The perception is that this is not a hypothesis driven science.*

It is perceived as a descriptive science by many.

In regards to peer review, I meant that it would almost impossible for a
reviewer to appropriately review a manuscript for publication without
looking at the same specimens. Including quality photographs of each
specimen would improve this process.

* I don't agree with the idea that research is not science unless it is
hypothesis driven, but many do feel that way.
A number of Nobel Prizes go to people who develop important tools and
techniques. This work is not always hypothesis driven.


- Pete

On Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 6:52 PM, Maarten Christenhusz <
m.christenhusz at nhm.ac.uk> wrote:

> Dear Peter,
> Of course all species descriptions are a hypothesis. And the names are
> based on a type specimen, which is what the author meant by that name. This
> is pure nomenclature and is a tool that is used, just like I present these
> primers to amplify this piece of DNA (and these are always properly cited).
> This is the nomenclature part of taxonomy and is the link of biology between
> law and literature.
> Taxonomy is of course pear reviewed. floras are based on specimens which
> are always cited and the description is a hypothesis, and is constantly
> tested by everyone that uses the flora of fauna. All publications are peer
> reviewed, because the specimens are cited and description can be checked
> with these if the are correct. This is testing of the hypothesis!
> You clearly have to inform yourself better about what taxonomy does.
> Hope you understand my point and I think the problem is that there is too
> little communication between taxonomists and other biological sciences (even
> though all biological sciences directly use taxonomy to base their
> hypotheses on!) So they take an hypothesis from taxonomy for granted. Quite
> interesting don't you think?
> Lets open the dialogue.
> Best wishes,
> Maarten
> Dr Maarten Christenhusz
> Flora Mesoamericana project
> Department of Botany
> The Natural History Museum
> Cromwell Road
> London SW7 5BD
> United Kingdom
> tel: [44] (0) 207 942 5108
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Richard Zander [mailto:Richard.Zander at mobot.org]
> Sent: Wed 6/17/2009 23:13
> To: Peter DeVries; Maarten Christenhusz
> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy
> Interesting point, Peter. Right now description of a new species is more
> like:
> "Here is a description of a new species which is REALLY OBVIOUSLY something
> different if you were me, studying this group for years."
> The observation "they all look alike to me" is familiar and sort of true
> when you view someone else's group of expertise, but not for your own. The
> idea that there are more than a hundred different beetles, for instance, is
> ridiculous.
> I think hypotheses of species needn't be proved (nothing is proved in
> science) but can be supported and the alternative falsified and so on. The
> key feature is that the hypothesis is useful to mankind (I mean personkind)
> and can be demonstrated so.
> Also, we are engaged in a 250-year research project started by Linnaeus to
> describe, name and catalogue the world's biota. Maybe one does not have to
> demonstrate the validity of one's new species immediately, but leave that
> for revisionists and the like. Taxononmy is, like MSWindows and Office, all
> one program.
> _______________________
> 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: Wed 6/17/2009 4:01 PM
> To: Maarten Christenhusz
> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy
> Here are two issues that relate to your note:
> 1) Many believe science is about making a hypothesis and testing it. It
> might help if species descriptions address this.
>   Something like:
>  "I hypothesize that there is a separate species represented by these
> specimens and having these characteristics"
> -- then support this hypothesis with data
>   Proving something is a species might be a little difficult, but you get
> the idea
> 2) Under the current way of doing things, it seems almost impossible that a
> species description or revision can be adequately peer reviewed or
> replicated.
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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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