[Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Thu Jun 18 09:26:11 CDT 2009

Peer review in taxonomy is superficial with a paper is reviewed for
publication, but is repeated every time a revision is done by the next
specialist, whether sooner or later. Don't we all peer review the grand
masters of the 1800's when we re-examine their types in light more a
century of additional collecting and development of more theory on
evolution and ecology? Taxonomy is a long-term study we all participate
in. Ever since, who? Caesalpino? 




Richard H. Zander 
Voice: 314-577-0276
Missouri Botanical Garden
PO Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA
richard.zander at mobot.org
Web sites: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/
and http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/bfna/bfnamenu.htm
Non-post deliveries to:
Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63110


From: Peter DeVries [mailto:pete.devries at gmail.com] 
Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 7:15 PM
To: Maarten Christenhusz
Cc: Richard Zander; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy


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

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,

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
"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
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


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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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