[Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sun Sep 12 17:57:30 CDT 2010

Richard Zander wrote:

"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 naturally."

I still see no reason to examine those bases, and judging by what Curtis Clark has said in the 'decline' thread (and what we know generally about funding, kudos, status, etc) the only gain in doing so would be to partially satisfy my intellectual curiosity about... my intellectual curiosity?

Some top-class taxonomists I've met have been 7 or 8 years old. They weren't just very good at differences between complex colour/shape/size patterns, they were also good at grouping by similarity and at separating by difference. One I know went on to get a PhD on land snails. The skills needed to get that far were *add-ons* to the taxonomic skills already in the child. And just as there are lots of mathematically skilled kids who will never get a job in pure maths, there are lots of taxonomically skilled kids who will never get a museum or university post in systematics. (And that's one reason I started the Open Taxonomy push last year - currently on hold - to enlist those skilled people in the taxonomic enterprise.)

The taxonomic pattern-recognition skills can also be taxon-specific, or specific in other ways. We all know people who assign a plant in a family at 50 m, but can't tell one beetle from another. I'm absolutely hopeless at colour (Wife: 'No, dear, that's not red, it's purple'), but I was lucky to be born with a mind that grasps and understands complex shapes: I can hold them in memory and flip them over or rotate them in my head.

In sum, Richard, I don't see that what you're pushing towards will have any direct benefit for discovering and documenting biodiversity. It might assist in analytical approaches to classification, but we've got those already - lost of them.
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

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