[Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sun Sep 12 18:11:09 CDT 2010

if I understand Richard, the point of what he was suggesting was to package 
grant applications up in a way that makes them more likely to be successful. It 
isn't about direct benefits to taxonomy, but more about loosening the wallets of 
potential funders ...

PS: Amusing thought of Bob mentally rotating millipede genitalia in his head! :)

From: Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
To: Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
Cc: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; TAXACOM 
<taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Mon, 13 September, 2010 10:57:30 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

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 

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 
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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