[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Wed Jan 26 17:25:45 CST 2011


I agree with Rich Pyle, but add that the insidious evil here is really the 
tendency for academia to want to play with new toys and lose interest in the old 
ones, and to follow economic factors over rationality ... basic taxonomy is 
never going to be good business, which is why it was govt. funded in the good 
ol' days, without anybody mentioning the "P-word" (profits). It was done for the 
good of the planet (with the assumption that it is prudent to understand the 
planet that we are stuck on). Nowadays, with institutions needing to bring in 
overheads, the IMHO irrational situation is that they just want to play around 
trying to uncover relationships between, and cryptic species of, the more or 
less random bunch of taxa that have already been named and classified 
sufficiently to do anything at all meaningful with them, and "to hell with the 
unworked "obscurities" that nobody cares about anyway" ...

Stephen




________________________________
From: Kevin Tilbrook <kevin_j_tilbrook at yahoo.co.uk>
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu; Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
Sent: Thu, 27 January, 2011 12:09:58 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Less of a rant - more of a rallying cry!

And look, someone saw fit to employ an alpha-taxonomist!

Dr Kevin J. Tilbrook
Curator (Bryozoa)

museum of tropical queensland |queensland museum
70 – 102 flinders street | townsville | queensland 4810 | australia. 
t+61 7 4726 0625 | f +61 7 4721 2093 |
kevin.tilbrook at qm.qld.gov.au| www.mtq.qm.qld.gov.au
 


________________________________
From: Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
To: TAXACOM <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Thu, 27 January, 2011 8:57:16
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

The more we scapegoat electronic biodiversity information management as the 
"cause" of the extinction of taxonomists, the faster that extinction will be 
upon us.  Misdirected blame only adds to the noise.  


First of all, it's wrong.  My octogenarian PhD Advisor, who has named more new 
species of fishes than any living ichthyologist (more than double than the next 
most prolific, in fact), and who has authored more taxonomic publications than 
any other ichthyologist in history (closing in on 800), *still* praises the 
online Catalog of Fishes as a marvel of technology, and one that has improved 
his efficiency dramatically. I hear similar sentiments from other 
similarly-credentialed "classical" taxonomists studying various groups of 
organisms.

Second of all, the amount of money spent on all database efforts combined is 
*trivial* compared to what is needed to correct the problem.

Third, in most cases that money has not come from a source that would have been 
available to taxonomists anyway.  In other words, these efforts have *increased* 

the total amount of dollars supporting the work of taxonomists; not detracted 
from it.

Fourth, the entire argument is a Red Herring, because the real problem with 
misdirected funds is more dollars spent doing lab-based taxonomy, and less 
dollars spent doing field-based taxonomy.

I play all roles, and I would rank their importance in the following order:

1) Naturalist
2) Collector
3) Alpha taxonomist
4) Database Developer
5) Systematist

I return again to my consistent rant:  We need to spend less time/money figuring 

out how organisms are related to each other, and more time/money discovering and 

documenting them in nature (while they're still here to discover and document).  

I don't mean to disparage systematics or lab-based taxonomy entirely -- both are 

important endeavors, and contribute meaningfully to the goal of documenting 
biodiversity.  The problem is in terms of proportion -- not just proportion of 
dollars spent, but proportion of training the next generation of taxonomists.

Finally, we're missing the larger issue.  Arguing about how to slice the 
bio-dollar pie is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. What we need 
to focus on is the SIZE of the pie.  We shouldn't be arguing about dollars spent 

on informatics vs. dollars spent on alpha taxonomy vs. dollars spent on 
phylogenetics.  We should be arguing about dollars spent on biodiversity 
research vs. physics research vs. astronomy research vs. other "big ticket" 
science.

So first, let's convince the world why biodiversity is important (as I have 
argued before, it is Earth's *most* important asset for future humanity -- we 
just don't realize it yet), and enlarge the size of the pie ten-fold or 
100-fold.  Then we can argue how to slice that pie up.

Sorry for the rant -- I haven't had food yet today....

Aloha,
Rich


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Database Coordinator for Natural Sciences
Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology
Dive Safety Officer
Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/staff/pylerichard.html



> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Bob Mesibov
> Sent: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 10:36 AM
> To: TAXACOM
> Subject: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> 
> http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/01/extinction-of-taxonomists/
> 
> Quote:
> "The millions of dollars spent globally on technology to catalog species may
> actually be pushing out the people we rely upon: taxonomists and
> systematists. We’re like young children frantic to add new baseball cards to
> our collections, while the actual creators of the baseball cards themselves 
are
> vanishing."
> 
> Nice to see that message getting out to a wider audience.
> --
> 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
> Ph: (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
> Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/?articleID=570
> 
> _______________________________________________
> 
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> 
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