[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Jan 27 17:06:11 CST 2011


but, Bob, why single out the "acronyms", when the decline of basic taxonomy 
funding has at least as much to do with the booms in cladistics and 
(particularly nowadays) molecular biology? I still think of the acronyms as 
being something like "charities" to taxonomy, i.e, they make a whole lotta money 
for themselves, but pass a little bit of it to the "needy"... It sounds overly 
simplistic, but I really do think that the acronyms can get funding more easily 
simply because they make heavy use of computers, which is seen to be utilising 
new technologies, whereas the taxonomist with his or her microscope and pencil 
is seen as prehistoric ...





________________________________
From: Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
To: Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
Cc: TAXACOM <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 10:22:38 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Hi, Rich.

With respect, I am getting it. The people with money are giving it to acronyms 
because they want to give it to acronyms. There is no direct competition for 
money between acronyms and productive taxonomists, and the acronyms are not 
starving productive taxonomists of funds they would otherwise have received. 
Agreed?

Taxonomy is not booming (even if we accept Simon Tillier's view that it isn't 
contracting). Acronyms are booming. The huge host of acronymic projects around 
the world that strutted their stuff at e-biosphere in London were brand-new 
efforts with brand-new funding that did not exist 10 years previously. Agreed?

You are hopeful that the boom in acronyms will somehow lead to a boom in 
taxonomy. The people giving out the money will come to understand that there is 
a taxonomic enterprise behind the acronymic one, and that the taxonomic 
enterprise needs help. (Quote: 'But maybe the technology "hook" has brought them 
close enough to our world that we can plead the case, such that maybe in the 
future they *will* provide the money we need for the tasks we need to do.') 
Agreed?

At the moment the acronyms are supporting taxonomy by helping taxonomists with 
existing information (your octogenarian fish-ologist). They are not supporting 
field work, lab/museum work or write-up work by existing taxonomists, and they 
are not supporting the training of new taxonomists - either at all, or to an 
insginificant extent. Agreed?

Taxonomists are substantially supporting the acronyms. They are generating the 
information that the acronyms harvest and process. In many cases, they are 
assisting the acronyms with data checking, not always for pay. They are asked by 
the acronyms to do more to help the acronymic enterprise (e.g. EOL's invitation 
to professionals to curate their pages, and the frequently heard rejoinder to 
complaints about acronymic data quality: 'If you find errors, please tell us so 
we can correct them.'). Agreed?

OK, if you've got this far with me, then please listen: it is this hugely 
one-way 'cross-fertilisation' that I see as contributing to the decline in 
taxonomy. Taxonomists may or may not be assisted in their work by the acronyms - 
they were quite productive before the acronym boom - but the loud noise from the 
acronyms in the broader society is not translating into more resources for 
taxonomy, or for taxonomic training.

Instead, it is IMO creating a belief in that broader society, and in the minds 
of those funding the acronyms, that the gathering of existing biodiversity 
information is the main game for the 21st century, that it is the most urgent 
thing we need to do to conserve and manage biodiversity. Trying yet another 
metaphor: the taxonomic horse is now and always will be leading the acronymic 
cart. The amount of money available to this dual enterprise has increased in 
recent years, but it's gone largely to the cart. The horse is missing out, and 
getting very hungry.
-- 
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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