[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Thu Jan 27 15:33:15 CST 2011

Dear Simon,

I appreciate your skepticism, but it is remarkably close to denial, and my own, local and regional experience suggests that the picture you are painting is a fantasy. However, we agree very closely on one point:

"As a conclusion, I would like to emphasize that defining who is and who is not a taxonomist is so difficult that the best approach is to analyze the situation of taxonomy first through production, which is measurable objectively, and not through producers whose categories are tricky and have to be defined in function of the question to which we want to answer"

Me to Dean Pentcheff and Taxacom, 17 June 2009:

"Slowing the decline of a professional discipline, or preventing it from dying altogether, isn't the same as revitalising it and increasing the number of its professional workers.

But digitisation is not only a good idea, it is absolutely *essential* if taxonomy is to transform itself. For a very long time taxonomy has been, and still is, something mainly done by institution-based professionals. That needs to change. A great deal (not all, but a lot) of the hand-wringing about the decline of taxonomy is actually despair at the prospects for institution-based professionals in future. As I've said before, this is confusing taxonomists with taxonomy. The fundamental unit of taxonomy isn't a person, it's a taxonomic action, which in the broad sense includes identification as well as publication.

There is no reason why Web-based communities of professionals, amateurs and other volunteers cannot generate taxonomic actions: correct identifications, and Code-compliant, high-quality publications. The Google Groups discussion calls this 'open taxonomy', but you could also call it 'distributed taxonomy'. Digitisation and good project management are prerequisites. The biggest obstacle I'm seeing at the moment is the entrenched attitude that 'taxonomy' somehow equates to 'professional taxonomists'.

Fewer professionals could mean increased output, if those professionals are willing to participate in projects that use the enormous human resources online."
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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