[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Jan 27 19:01:14 CST 2011

my wording is to blame for this small misunderstanding. I mean't the rather more 
convoluted: if someone *is* getting (public) money to do taxonomy, then taxonomy 
they should be doing, not cladistics-phylogeography-molecular biology (except to 
the extent that these things contribute significantly to the taxonomy, but there 
is a fine line here). Of course I have no problem at all with anybody *actually 
doing* taxonomy, regardless of their job description! Yes, a taxonomist can do 
other things, that is all good, but doing other things *under the guise of 
taxonomy*, while there is very little actual taxonomic progress to show for it, 
is surely not a good thing? These days, it is easier to get funded to do 
taxonomy if you can sell it as "climate change research" or other such rubbish, 
but the reverse also happens, i.e., the little money that actually *is* set 
aside for taxonomy gets covertly diverted to other things ...

Is this any clearer?


From: Karl Magnacca <kmagnacca at wesleyan.edu>
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Cc: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 1:49:49 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

On Wed, January 26, 2011 4:31 pm, Stephen Thorpe wrote:
> ... To my mind, someone is either employed as a taxonomist, or
> not, and if they are not, then they shouldn't get funding for
> describing and documenting the "uncatalogued" N.Z. fauna ...
> someone else should ...

While I can understand how you might feel in this particular case,
this attitude is just bizarre.  I've described ~60 species in four
years with ~20 more on the way and have never been employed as a
taxonomist.  Very few people are currently employed as taxonomists
for the Hawaiian insect fauna - maybe no one depending on how you
define it.  So I shouldn't be allowed to get any funding for it?  I
would bet that *most* taxonomists aren't employed as taxonomists.

> It is all about balance, and finding the appropriate funding levels
> for everything. Cladists can do cladistics, biogeographers can do
> biogeography, molecular biologists can do molecular biology, but
> taxonomists should do taxonomy ...

You seem to think these are mutually exclusive, like a person can
only do one thing.  As it happens, my dissertation had exactly those
four chapters, and since then I've been doing all of them in various

Just how you define a "taxonomist"?

Karl Magnacca
Postdoctoral Researcher
University of Hawaii-Hilo


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