[Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sun Sep 12 16:20:48 CDT 2010

sounds like you are suggesting that we sell our souls for the sake of $$$???

Anyway, it is all in the spin, and your example below is highly spinned in one 
direction. I could equally say to "Big Funder" something like: look, if you want 
this done right, you need people with the talent and the experience to do the 
job properly, and not just people who blindly follow protocols with impressive 
sounding names but not much else ...

From: Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
To: Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
Cc: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; TAXACOM 
<taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Mon, 13 September, 2010 5:50:52 AM
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

Bob and Stephen:

Pattern recognition as fundamental to classical systematics is okay
among friends, but doesn't quite cut it since it does not have super
powers. By that I mean, suppose you and a phylogeneticist go up to a
Dean or Big Funder, and request funding (or honor, students, or corner

The phylogeneticist presents herself as expert in hidden Markov chain
waddawadda, rbcL and COI evo-devo-cadabra, and causally incrassated
Dirichlet priors, which is commonly funded big-time. 

You explain that you recognize patterns in a skillful manner. Hmmmm . .
. who gets the kudos (or corner office)?

Wouldn't you rather say you use the Shannon information criterion
(information = -log probability) to identify unexpected
feature-combinations as information-rich data? How about using the
geometric mean in dimension analysis as guidance for identifying
outliers that identify possible unique biodiversity? We all do these
things informally, so I am finding out in recent work, but we avoid
examining the actually quite sophisticated bases for what we do so

Long ago cladists suggested that classical taxonomists reexamine their
methods. I think that, after 30 years of alpha taxonomic omphaloskepsis,
we are finally examining cladistics and finding its limits, but should
also examine classical systematics and detail its strengths.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 
Richard H. Zander 
Missouri Botanical Garden, PO Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA 
Web sites: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/ and
Modern Evolutionary Systematics Web site:

-----Original Message-----
From: Bob Mesibov [mailto:mesibov at southcom.com.au] 
Sent: Saturday, September 11, 2010 6:29 PM
To: Richard Zander
Cc: Stephen Thorpe; TAXACOM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

Hi, Richard.

My wife begs to differ, and as a dutiful husband I (of course) agree.
She says that pattern recognition is a fundamental human skill and is
used and honed in many different trades and professions, not just
taxonomy. I don't myself see how externalising this process and
analysing its rules will make us better taxonomists.

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
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/?articleID=570


More information about the Taxacom mailing list