[Taxacom] Status of Canadian Taxonomic Science
fhaas at icipe.org
Tue Jan 26 01:07:52 CST 2010
I did not read the mentioned paper carefully, but I also draw from my
work as National Focal point of the Global taxonomy Initiative in Germany.
I do agree that looking at 3 to 6 Canadian Journals to infer on the
productivity of Canadian Taxonomist is not sufficient. Here we might
detect a shift in focus in the Journals rather that in the number of
taxonomists. I wonder if I ever published in a German journal. And as
taxonomy is an global enterprise, there is a good chance that the
Canadian colleagues publish abroad.
On the other hand, looking at the employment numbers at museums and
universities is valid, and frightening, as taxonomy has essentially
disappeared from universities and museums had budget cuts. certainly
valid and true what packer et al find.
The funding is a tricky thing, and it is a discussion with some history!
Before the DNA Barcoding, it was about organisations like GBIF and
biodiversity informatics. To my knowledge there has been no study that
would show a factual link between reduced funding in taxonomy and these
institutions and DNA Barcoding.
There certainly is a coincidence in the trends, however one could argue,
that taxonomy funding is diminishing anyway, and as it happens, the
funding for DNA and GBIF (and others) is increasing anyway. For Germany,
there might be supporting arguments, in as much, as Germany is a federal
country and most museum and universities are financed by the
Laender/States/Provinces, and they make their budget decisions on rather
domestic reasons. Quite simply, do we have the money to finance a museum
and all staff? Often enough they said no, and slashed positions whenever
Now the money for GBIF comes from the national level, which in turn
would never be available for financing museum positions. And I doubt
that the federal Ministry of Research and Education (in charge of GBIF)
has ever funded something connected to taxonomy.
So in order to find out if DNA is funded at the expense of traditional
taxonomy, one would have to ask the project funders if they make any
such decision, or if they have one pot of money for basic research, and
then the participants have to compete. This in the end might reduced the
funds for taxonomy, as it appears less fancy than DNA barcoding.
In the end I do have the impression, that taxonomy (through CBD)
receives more funding than before, however, this money goes at
non-traditional places and is not materialising in positions at
institutions, esp not in permanent positions. This is a key issue, since
building up taxonomic competence usually takes some years and hobbing
between the taxa is not an option, which make taxonomist less felxible
for all kinds of project work, and prevents something like a career
option for young scientists.
In the developing world, I am now in Kenya, it is -increasingly as I
would say- difficult to get finding for anything which smells like
taxonomy or biodiversity research. Donors want quick and easy results
and applications and implementation. You here more and more often, that
"We are not interested in you research, we want implementation". What is
supposed to be implemented without doing some research in the beginning
seems unclear to me. Anyway. So far some lose thoughts on the topic.
Kipling (Kip) Will wrote:
> Dear Taxacomers,
> I would be very interested to see what members of this list think of a
> recent paper by Packer et al. (2009. The status of taxonomy in Canada
> and impact of DNA barcoding. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 87:1098-1110.)
> The discussion is important as a panel will convene this week to
> determine the status and future direction of taxonomy and biodiversity
> science in Canada http://www.scienceadvice.ca/biodiversity.html
> If you have an informed opinion, it might be useful for your colleagues
> on the panel (see link above) to hear from you.
> The analysis in the paper above uses a small number of Canadian journals
> (3) to determine trends in taxonomic output. A quick search of any
> typical database (e.g. Zoological record) for authors with Canadian
> addresses and new species descriptions does not show the strong trend
> they portray. Though the notion that funding for taxonomic research has
> declined seems obvious enough, their measure does not seem to provide a
> realistic view.
> Additionally, output is measured as number of new species (a
> questionable metric at best), but the most peculiar comparison is
> between “Total new species”, a questionnaire-based number of all
> presumed new species, published or not, for labs funded by Barcode money
> vs. only published new species from labs otherwise funded.
> The basic premise seems questionable as well. Where they get the
> quotation “DNA barcoding has taken funds away from traditional
> approaches to taxonomy” is unknown to me. When critiquing DNA barcode
> methods my co-authors and I always took great pains to point out that
> *future funding*, not existing lines of funds, would be directed to
> barcoding over future *integrative taxonomic research*, not "traditional
> taxonomy". Perhaps this committee will be a test of our idea. In any
> case, very few people are interested in holding the status quo, so this
> seems a poorly stuffed straw man.
> Kip Will
fhaas at icipe.org, Extension -2052
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