[Taxacom] barcoding article

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Wed Jul 28 15:44:23 CDT 2010

Excerpt from Malte C. Ebach  & Marcelo R. de Carvalho


Anti-intellectualism in the DNA Barcoding Enterprise

ZOOLOGIA 27 (2): 165-178, 2010


"There are two clear-cut ways in which taxonomy should be strengthened.

first is to give more academic appointments to taxonomists who have

the substance, and not just the biometric methodology, of systematics,

who are experts on reasonably large groups of organisms on a continental

global basis. They must be allowed to take their place among the

and experimental ecologists now so much in favor in biology departments"

(WILSON 1971:741).


Forty years of sentiment for an ailing scientific field is slowly
turning into resentment. The short article written by WILSON (1971),
from which the epigraph above is taken, highlighting the plight of
taxonomy, is in strong contrast to recent calls for taxonomic


 "...morphology alone is known to be inadequate to the task of species
level identification in many instances" (PACKER et al. 2009: 42).


"We shall then ask how modern means of sharing data, especially the
Internet, might be used to make taxonomy more efficient and to improve
its links with its end-users." (GODFRAY et al. 2008: 943).


"Taxonomists should embrace new tools that are potentially useful (such
as DNA barcodes for species discovery and identification and DNA
taxonomy to help test species boundaries) and catch the attention and
interest of other scientists." (AGNARSSON & KUNTNER 2007: 534).


"...taxonomists will display a regrettable lack of foresight for the
future of taxonomy if we do not integrate all of the methods that are
now available to delimit species boundaries into a synthetic approach."
(DAYRAT 2005: 412).


"The new excitement about taxonomy is driven partly by advances in
technology, and partly by newly perceived needs given the biodiversity
crisis." (MALLET & WILLMOTT 2003 57).


"One can make a case with some justification as to whether the science
of taxonomy is evolving fast enough in the face of the demands being
placed upon it by the public and by government policy makers in
connection with the so-called biodiversity crisis." (SCHRAM 2007: 23).


Thought to be no more than a service industry for endusers, such as
ecologists, bioinformatists and conservationists, taxonomy has been
dumbed-down to that of a technology of a bygone era. This has created
the image of dusty elitists cocooned in crumbling museums or as Luddites
dismissing so-called 'progress' wholesale. With this increasing popular
image in mind, taxonomy, as a scholarly pursuit, is undermined by what
we refer to as an unwitting anti-intellectual movement within biological
systematics. The movement uses "scientific" arguments to justify its use
when in fact it is defying best practice.


Dr. John R. Grehan
Director of Science and Research
Buffalo Museum of Science
1020 Humboldt Parkway
Buffalo, NY 14211-1193

email: jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Phone: (716) 896-5200 ext 372
Fax: (716) 897-6723


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