[Taxacom] article on the decline of taxonomists

Haas, Fabian fhaas at icipe.org
Sat Sep 11 04:54:34 CDT 2010

at least in Africa there was no falling away of direct economical links. In most cases the business was still run by the eold buddies. Also many countries did not even have colonies (which did not decline access to their countries anyways, after independance). So I think that argument does not hold

Decolonisation was taking a hundred - two hundred years, if you look all over the world... So the term is not quite useful if you want to describe a certain period of time, at a gloable level.

anyways I am writing too much, must dash off!
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of dipteryx at freeler.nl [dipteryx at freeler.nl]
Sent: 11 September 2010 11:05
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] article on the decline of taxonomists

Well, the topic was the decline of taxonomy.

These quoted texts represent very recognizable sentiments
(the first extract, by Coulter, reminds me of Mark Chase giving
his assesment of the Cronquist system), but these may be taken
to concern perennial rivalry (itself perhaps a problem) rather
than the decline of taxonomy. The latter is widely felt to have
manifested itself over the past fifty/forty/thirty years ...

Hence my hypothesis that this is linked (to at least some degree)
with decolonization (the falling away of the direct economic link
with the tropical living world; when the living world became an
abstract topic rather than a practical one, methods could become
more abstract as well).


-----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
Van: Peter Stevens [mailto:peter.stevens at mobot.org]
Verzonden: vr 10-9-2010 21:38
Aan: dipteryx at freeler.nl
CC: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Onderwerp: Re: [Taxacom] article on the decline of taxonomists

Well, the roots in fact go back much further, to Buffon at least and
complementary activities of Rousseau, Linnaeus and Goethe.  Just read
the invective associated with the New Botany (end 19th C) in the
United States, for instance; the New (= laboratory) Botany is played
off against an (ef)feminized old botany that is taxonomy, and
slightly later, the issue of "Sham Biology".  For your amusement, two
quotes, one by a botanist promoting lab botany (Bessey makes similar
remarks at this time), and the second a zoologist claiming that
biology had nothing to do with botany - and I can assure you that
these are not taken out of context.  BTW, that biology could be
considered entirely zoological in the 19th (and even 20th) Cs is
connected with the fact that natural history could be considered to
have nothing to do with plants.


[The] advance from its first simple stages to its present fullness
and complexity is like the story of the advance of a savage tribe to
extreme civilization.  First studied as things of utility, plants
presently were regarded as things of beauty, and the "scientia
amabilis" counted its votaries by thousands.  Recommended especially
to ladies as a harmless pastime, not overtaxing to the mind, and
called even by Goethe the "loveliest of sciences", it was an
emasculated science, which regarded merely the cut of the clothes
rather than the man beneath.  In spite of the subsequent revelation
of the botanical man, the capacity of plants for usefulness in the
domain of aestheticism still brands botany in certain quarters as an
emotion rather than a study, a view which brings some such shudder to
the modern botanist as is experienced by the modern astronomer when
informed that "it must be lovely to trace the constellations!"  But
the botanical man has been liberated, and his virile strength is
becoming daily more evident.  In this presence it is not necessary
for me to magnify the great modern science of botany, with its
tremendous reaches, its deep insight into the very secret of life,
its masterful problems that call for the highest expressions of
diligence and genius.  This you have already done for me, and I find
the ground prepared and fertile for such seeds as I may have to drop
into it .[i]

[i] J. M. Coulter, The Botanical Outlook, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1895,
4-5, see also Stevens, 1997, p. 27.

Was aught of bios seen when reading those dismal and dreary papers
constituting a Glossary of Botanical Terms?  Did the student learn
anything about life while trying to separate Thalictrum from Anemone
or trying to unravel the snarls of the Asters and Solidagos.  I ween
not.  Life and biology-a discourse on life-made its first appearance
in the minds of the students when zoology lebowed [sic] its way into
the curriculum.  It was not until the living amoeba (the animal is
not a myth) thrust out its pseudopodia right in the very face of the
student,... that biology came in.  Zoology brought the impetus and
the idea, and in many a college where the botanist  still goes his
weary round of finding out whether the ovule is orthotropous or
anatropous and of looking at the placentation of the ovule, all study
of life is still left to the zoologist.  Why should he not claim the
word biology?[i]

[i] Anonymous, 'In reference to "biology"', Botanical Gazette (1890),
15, 276, emphasis in the original [by a "prominent zoologist'].  He
described natural history as including only botany and geology.  See
also Editorial, Bot. Gaz. 15: 236-237. 1890 [by a "prominent botanist"].

On Sep 10, 2010, at 3:51 AM, <dipteryx at freeler.nl>
<dipteryx at freeler.nl> wrote:

> Van: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu namens Peter Stevens
> Verzonden: do 9-9-2010 15:53
>> Seriously, we have been complaining about our decline
>> and the fact that nobody loves us for a century or so;
>> it does get a bit stale.  I have often thought about
>> pulling together the relevant literature;
> ***
> A century looks like an overstatement; more likely something
> like half that. A likely cause/correlation for the decline
> should be decolonization; the very reason for having colonies
> was to have products such as spices, drugs, dyes, etc, etc,
> derived from the living world. A lot of research capacity was
> tied up with that, including taxonomy; and when this economic
> incentive fell away ...
> Paul
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