[Taxacom] Sub-professionals

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Tue Jun 23 21:41:24 CDT 2009

Richard Zander, being a bot-oh (Australian academic slang), is probably better placed to answer your question than me, but...

What I was suggesting in my earlier post was that there isn't, in fact, such a thing as certification as a professional taxonomist. There are training institutions, but the ticket they hand out isn't a competency in taxonomy. Instead, taxonomy is one of the subjects taught at enlightened universities to give their biology graduates an insight into where all those names come from.

Postgraduate education in some places equips you with a PhD or MS degree in systematics, which is close to professional certification, but not quite. There's no national or international board or college which regulates how taxonomists practice their art, as there is for medicine and law. There aren't even formal peer-group societies to do this, which might promulgate codes of practice for their members.

Taxonomy might therefore be better seen as what taxonomists do. It isn't who you are or how you were trained, it's how well you do taxonomy that matters. The past 250 years, right up to 2009, have seen publication of top-quality taxonomic works by people who don't have university degrees or formal training in taxonomy. Some of these folk are or have been the acknowledged top experts on their groups. It is demeaning and unfair to call them 'amateurs'. They do taxonomy, they do it well, and they're taxonomists.

>From your self-description, you're a good and experienced taxonomist. What open-taxonomy advocates like myself are suggesting is that there are people who are naturals at taxonomy as an activity, or naturals at some one of the activities that make up taxonomy. We now have the means (the Web) to recruit these non-professionals and non-sub-professionals into projects managed by professionals.

For some of those recruits, the next step might be certification in taxonomy. That might open a few doors (literally, in the case of museums), and an anonymous online contributor could become a 'nonymous', widely known specialist. I personally think the issues Richard has been raising would be better dealt with when the number of taxonomists sensu lato bottoms out and starts climbing again as a result of taxonomy becoming more open to public participation.
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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