[Taxacom] article on taxonomy

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sat Feb 27 03:17:46 CST 2010

Dear nando,

Many thanks for your thoughts, and again thank you very much for your excellent opinion article.

You are the second person on this list to see my sentence "3. Taxonomists should stop seeking scientific prestige and big funding" and interpret it as a call for taxonomists not to seek better funding, or to work as amateurs, or to become some sort of religious order with vows of poverty. It is my fault, then. I didn't make my meaning clear enough. Here is what I think:

- Taxonomy will never, ever, get the massive funding and personnel it needs to do its job properly. It is undeniably true that very good taxonomy can be done cheaply by relatively untrained people (think of a skilled botanist who does not have molecular training, or access to a sequencing lab). For this reason it is bad policy to throw vast amounts of money in the general direction of taxonomy. The working unit of taxonomy is the specialist, and their numbers and their productivity are limited by interest, education and experience, not by the availability of funds. This is one of the reasons (in my opinion) that Rio led to the foolish disasters you wrote about. Projects on the edges of taxonomy were there to absorb the money that was not taken up by discoverers and documenters - although of course I do not mean this in the literal sense.

- Because we will never get that big funding or prestige, we should not be wasting time dreaming about it or plotting to get it. We should just get on with the job of discovering and documenting with whatever resources we *can* get, and today, for most practising taxonomists, amateur and professional, that of course means digital libraries and digital tools. This is an ethical position, still, and not a call for action. I am not responding to the utter failure of Rio 1992 by saying 'We didn't get money, so let's give up, it's hopeless.' I am saying 'We didn't get money, we need to focus on discovering and documenting and stop dreaming that this is just a temporary setback and that if we lobby hard enough then taxonomy can become the Queen of the Biological Sciences again.'

On your concerns about the professional/amateur divide, please see the documents (Pages and Files) at http://groups.google.com.au/group/open-taxonomy-projects?hl=en

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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