[Taxacom] article on taxonomy

Robin Leech releech at telus.net
Fri Feb 26 23:29:00 CST 2010

Vis-a-vis the comments below, I believe it was the notable Ernst Mayr
who suggested some many years ago that we should concentrate on
collecting the flora and fauna of Central America before it is lost.

His words seem to have gone mostly unheeded by taxonomists,
governments and funding bodies.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Richard Pyle" <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
To: "'TAXACOM'" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Friday, February 26, 2010 8:57 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] article on taxonomy

> Hi Bob,
>> 1. Taxonomists should discover and document living forms.
>> They should not be distracted by projects which endlessly
>> catalogue and reformat what's already known in taxonomy,
>> because contra Richard Pyle the net result is time lost to
>> discovery and documentation, and because the goal is an empty
>> one: as I've pointed out here before, biodiversity
>> informatics could still be going ahead full steam long after
>> the last wild species had gone extinct. Taxonomists should
>> also not be distracted by projects which endlessly seek the
>> One True Tree of Life, because a geometrical abstraction of
>> evolutionary relationships tells us pathetically little of
>> what we can discover about the natural world.
> Clearly you've completely misunderstood my angle on this, because nothing 
> in
> my perspective on the value of "biodiversity informatics" (a term that has
> been so diversely defined in these various threads that it now has
> effectively no meaning), is in any way "contra" to my STRONG-held belief
> that the TOP priority of taxonomists should be to, as you say, "discover 
> and
> document living forms".  There may be others who legitimately represent 
> that
> "contra" position, but I am certainly not among them, so please do not 
> erect
> my name as a straw man in this way.
>> 2. Taxonomists should concentrate their efforts on those taxa
>> and those habitats which are vanishing most quickly. We've
>> made the mistake time and time again in the past of sampling
>> groups and places for the wrong reasons, with the result that
>> the world is now full of blank spots - still growing - where
>> agricultural and residential development and pollution
>> impacts have destroyed locally endemic plants and animals
>> about which we know absolutely *nothing*. Taxonomy is about
>> knowing  *something*. Do biodiversity salvage.
> Again, I fully agree.  And given that coral reefs seem to be among the 
> most
> imperiled habitats on the planet (on a global scale), I'm also fulfilling
> your stated mandate.
>> 3. Taxonomists should stop seeking scientific prestige and
>> big funding. Some of the best taxonomic work of the past 250
>> years was done by private individuals equipped with little
>> more than a handlens or an inexpensive microscope, and much
>> of the best taxonomic work in the coming decades of
>> extinction will be done the same way. The goal here is the
>> discovery and documentation of living forms, not the
>> elevation in academic status of taxonomy.
> Yet again, I couldn't agree more!
>> 4. Taxonomists should speak for the voiceless natural world
>> when talking to concerned non-biologists. The short and
>> simple answer to 'What can I do to help the planet?' is
>> 'Don't have kids.'
> I'm not sure that this is necessarily the best strategy.  A 
> disproportionate
> failure of biophilics to procreate could have the opposite effect to the
> intended one; that is, the parents most likely to instill a healthy 
> respect
> and appreciation for biodiversity in the next generation would attenuate 
> in
> abundance over successive generations, leaving only the childeren of
> indifferent exploiters to perpetuate their memes.  Or, are you saing that
> the taxonomists/biologists should still have the kids, but should try to
> persuade only the non-biologists against having kids?  That strategy might
> work....
> Aloha,
> Rich
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