[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Wed Jan 26 17:33:39 CST 2011

Hi, Rich.

I think your lack of food may have affected your lines of argument :-)

Pyle: "First of all, it's wrong."
Whether existing taxonomists think the databasing efforts are good or not isn't relevant. The author of the Wired article is Craig McLain, assistant director of science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and like you, a keen marine expeditioner. McLain doesn't knock databasing. He says: 'Thankfully (my own research has relied upon them), thousands of hours and millions of dollars have been spent on these initiatives. However, many of these programs did not financially support taxonomists generating the data these databases required.'

Pyle: "Second of all, the amount of money spent on all database efforts combined is *trivial* compared to what is needed to correct the problem."
Ah, the old 'drop in the bucket' argument from Tom Wolfe's 'Mau Mauing the Flak Catchers'. Correcting the problem might take millions, who knows? It's a fluid estimate. Take some real figures: in 2010-11, of the 4 of the 9 taxonomy grants from the Australian Biological Resources Study (the Federal taxonomy honeypot) to professional taxonomists were for AUD$10000 *over 3 years*. That really is trivial. How much does one EOL Biodiversity Synthesis Meeting cost?

Pyle: "Third, in most cases that money has not come from a source that would have been available to taxonomists anyway."
Which is McLain's point, and lots of other people's. That source damn well *should* have been funding the taxonomists. And here again one of my favourite quotes, from former EOL head James Edwards: "We have not given enough thought to the people who provide the information on which the Encyclopedia of Life is built," Dr. Edwards acknowledged. "We are looking into ways to keep that community going." (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/science/26ency.html?_r=3)

Pyle: "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."
You probably need to clarify that a bit more. I think it's still true that most new species are 'discovered' in museums and herbaria.
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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