[Taxacom] article on taxonomy

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Fri Feb 26 22:54:02 CST 2010

Hi Bob,

> I don't think so. You've repeatedly argued that 
> bioinformatics tools will make taxonomists' work more 
> efficient, so that they'll have more time to discover and 
> they'll discover more when doing so. 

That is almost correct. Replace "will make" with "could make", and you'd be
even closer.

> I dispute that. 

Yes, I recognize that.

> I haven't misunderstood you, I just don't agree with you. 

I'm not sure I agree with that... :-)

> Where 
> is the evidence for the positive return of investment you envisage?

On my laptop.  When I can go to a new place and know within a few keystrokes
what has already been documented there, what habitats have already been well
sampled, what ambiguous species reports there are, etc., etc.  It makes my
limited time collecting much more productive, because I can target my future
collecting efforts accordingly.  In 1997, I conducted what I think is among
the first taxonomist's "blog" of sorts (see:
http://www.bishopmuseum.org/research/treks/palautz97/).  I was absolutely
AMAZED at how much the real-time flow of information (poor as it was by
today's standards) dramatically improved the effectiveness of our subsequent
collecting efforts. Having access not only to a world of taxonomists (who
wrote me helpful and informative emails about what I was collecting), but
also having on my laptop easy access to information (scanned images, scanned
publications, etc.) allowed me to adjust my subsequent sampling priorities
in real time.

Prior to that expedition, our rate of discovery was 4.3-5 new species of
fishes per hour of exploration time.  On that expedition, our rate of
discovery was 6.9 new species of fishes per hour of exploration.  The
evidence we have available to us indicates that this was NOT a result of
higher diversity in Palau compared to the other localities.  Part of the
increase was due to better equipment; but also keep in mind that we had the
somewhat severe handicap of smiling for the cameras in Palau. There is no
question that part of the increased discovery rate was a result of the
increased level of what you seem to disparage as "biodiversity informatics".

And that's just how it can help on the "discovery" side of things.  It has
the potential to help even more dramatically on the "documentation" side of
things -- but I've already made that point in many previous posts, so I
won't repeat here.

Yes, we do seem to disagree, and that's perfectly fine.  But I get the
strong sense that much of that is due to miscommunication (the most abundant
form of communication on many of these recent threads).  I could endeavor to
clarify why I think a large part of our disagreement is a result of
miscommunication, but I'd rather prepare my gear for tomorrow's dives than
continue wasting my time with "biodiversity pontificatics".

But I do want you to know that the reason for my slightly testy response to
your previous post was because you chose to single me out (among the other
advocates of well-targeted "biodiversity informatics") as representing the
"contra" to a point which I have been trumpeting on this list and elsewhere
every bit as loudly and passionately (perhaps more so) as you have.  You
*KNOW* from my various emails, both to the list and off-list, that my TOP
priority is the discovery and documentation of biodiversity.  It is why I do
alpha taxonomy, and not cladistical analysis.  It is why I spend more time
in the field than in the lab when doing taxonomy.  It is why I post lengthy
diatribes about the importance of discovering and documenting biodiversity
more than any other aspect of what taxonomists do. 

So yes, even if we do have real disagreements about the value "biodiversity
informatics" (a term I now consistently put in quotes, because I have almost
no idea what it means anymore), which go beyond miscommunication; it was
unfair (and a bit insulting) to use my name as "contra" to what my most
passionate pursuit in life really is.

> 'Don't have kids'
> Sorry, your Darwinian slant on who should have kids is way, 
> way too late. 

Relax....my tongue was fully in my cheek on that one.  Obviously I should
have included the smiley...

You're very-much preaching to the choir on everything you write below. I
remember a conversation I had with my sister when I was in my early teens.
My basic point to her was that the most genuine demonstration of concern for
the environment is suicide.  Basically the same general point you're making
below, and the same one I have been making since my early teens.


> I don't care if it's biophilics or biophobes 
> who stop/slow their breeding. There are *now* too many people 
> squeezing out all other species. Worrying about who should 
> breed and who not is a time-waster even worse than the 
> notorious 'stop at two, that only replaces the parents'. 
> Sure, if both parents dropped dead after child 2 is born. But 
> they don't drop dead, and if they're a young couple they can 
> live to see a happy throng of descendants before they die of 
> old age, and the whole of that throng is what puts the 
> pressure on land, water, climate and biodiversity.
> --
> 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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