[Taxacom] article on the decline of taxonomists

dipteryx at freeler.nl dipteryx at freeler.nl
Sun Sep 12 02:25:14 CDT 2010


Well, this could be taken that "decline" is everything past 
the high point, which would mean that the question becomes 
when the high point of taxonomy was? I suppose this may be 
before WWI, although it looks to me that it is hard to tell,
with the disruption caused by WWI and WWII. The real 
manifestation of the decline is in the past few decades.

Or it could be taken that in the public eye, taxonomy never had 
much of a standing; the popularization by Linnaeus of botany by
"counting stamens" clearly had its downside, trading in scientific
depth for popularity. However, sports are doing well by popularity, 
and lack of depth ...

Paul

-----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
Van: Peter Stevens [mailto:peter.stevens at mobot.org]
Verzonden: za 11-9-2010 23:07
Aan: dipteryx at freeler.nl
CC: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Onderwerp: Re: [Taxacom] article on the decline of taxonomists
 
The topic still is - the point that I would emphasize that taxonomy  
was in decline in the 19thC and viewed by some as a discipline of  
little worth, and this is true of botanical taxonomy in particular -  
you can see this even in poetry.  This is the view much of the public  
took, and a similar view still surfaces almost unconsciously in  
places like Nature, literary magazines, etc. We are not talking   
simply about internal rivalry; comments like those below reflect  
general societal values. Not that there is no connection with  
decolonization, although a link with methods becoming more abstract  
seems a stretch.

P.
On Sep 11, 2010, at 3:05 AM, <dipteryx at freeler.nl> wrote:

> 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).
>
> Paul
>
> -----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.
>
> P.
>
> [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
>> _______________________________________________
>>
>> Taxacom Mailing List
>> Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
>> http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/mailman/listinfo/taxacom
>>
>> The Taxacom archive going back to 1992 may be searched with either
>> of these methods:
>>
>> (1) http://taxacom.markmail.org
>>
>> Or (2) a Google search specified as:  site:mailman.nhm.ku.edu/
>> pipermail/taxacom  your search terms here
>
>
> _______________________________________________
>
> Taxacom Mailing List
> Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/mailman/listinfo/taxacom
>
> The Taxacom archive going back to 1992 may be searched with either  
> of these methods:
>
> (1) http://taxacom.markmail.org
>
> Or (2) a Google search specified as:  site:mailman.nhm.ku.edu/ 
> pipermail/taxacom  your search terms here





More information about the Taxacom mailing list