[Taxacom] Intuition in taxonomy

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Mon Mar 2 12:20:02 CST 2009

We are focusing on the problem of how to deal with difficult decisions,
I think. If the decisions are not difficult, such as a specimen that is
described as new because the taxonomist judges, based on experience with
variation in related taxa, that it is a new evolutionary taxon, no
problem. I think the number of specimens does matter sometimes, but
there are times that a decision must be made in the face of a Morton's
Fork (damned if you do or don't).

I can't believe that this is usually done by flipping a coin or
inferring Truth from First Principles. You did indicate, Steve, that you
would tend to split because the nature of taxonomy is to revisit old
decisions and check them in the light of new collections, etc. This is
not an a priori decision but methodological intelligence and most of us
follow this sensible course.

Perhaps I am wrong. Possibly some taxonomists split or lump based on the
state of their digestion. Would those Taxacomers who use a priori
methods for taxonomic decisions share with us their techniques? Dice?
Yarrow stalks? Whether the taxon they are considering lumping or
splitting is that of an enemy or friend? 

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

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Manning [mailto:sdmanning at asub.edu] 
Sent: Monday, March 02, 2009 10:26 AM
To: Richard Zander; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Intuition in taxonomy

Hello Richard,

I would certainly agree with you in general.  However, in the real
world, alpha taxonomists often make their decisions based on one to few
available specimens, and I think this is a large part of the problem.
Whatever you call an "innate template for identifying reality",
intuition or some other word, it may or may not be valid and certainly
shouldn't ever, in my opinion, be the basis for ignoring or minimizing
objective evidence.  But if you are looking at just a few specimens and
deciding whether to lump them or split them, 
for example (or looking at data sets based ultimately on such
investigations), sometimes it seems just like a coin-flip, so if someone
"intuits" that it should be done one way rather than another, at that
stage it may be an important part of the process, always subject to
modification, even if describing new taxa.  

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