[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Neal Evenhuis neale at bishopmuseum.org
Thu Jan 27 20:52:38 CST 2011


GNI actually pulls up ALL records of a name -- misspellings, subsequent usage, etc.!

Searching back to 2001 you get totals varying from 24079 (for 2008) to 114252 (for 2004!) -- click on some of the names and you will see it whenever a name has been listed in a publication. Therefore, GNI is not really the place to see how many new species were proposed in a given year.

-Neal

On 1/27/11 4:30 PM, "Stephen Thorpe" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz<mailto:stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>> scribbled the following tidbit:

maybe that figure of 18225 is OK ... hard to say, but one needs to be careful
a search for 2008 on Global Names Index pulls up 24079 records (including new genera etc., as well as new species)
http://gni.globalnames.org/name_strings?search_term=2008
*but* just looking at the first page of 803 reveals 7 repeats based on minor citation variants (comma absent or present, authors in full or et al., etc.)
so, the number could be well astray quite easily ...

________________________________
From: Neal Evenhuis <neale at bishopmuseum.org<mailto:neale at bishopmuseum.org>>
To: "tillier at mnhn.fr<mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr>" <tillier at mnhn.fr<mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr>>; Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au<mailto:mesibov at southcom.com.au>>; Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org<mailto:deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>>
Cc: taxacom <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>>
Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 1:29:05 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Figures can always be misleading.

Without doing too much calculation and re-examination of all the parameters given below, let's just look at one:

18225 species described;
50 species per year per taxonomist;
= 346 taxonomists doing all the work!
I doubt it. Especially since Philippe says 600 are doing Mollusca work alone...

Some of the figures given below are confounded by many real-life situations not taken into account:
1. many co-authors on papers describing species
2. students and retired professionals getting little or no pay

A recalculation given many more complexities and realistic parameters of species being described should show that very little funding goes to taxonomy as compared to systematics.

-Neal


On 1/26/11 11:53 PM, "Simon TILLIER" <tillier at mnhn.fr<mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr><mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr<mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr>>> scribbled the following tidbit:

Some elements in support to Rich’s (unpopular) position:

1.  18225 new species have been described in 2008 (source = State of
Observed Species 2010). This rate of description has existed for more than
two decades now (source = Philippe Bouchet), and is far higher than ever
before since Linnaeus times;

2. New species are being described by more authors than ever, which is
obviously in contradiction with the idea of extinction of taxonomists: for
new Mollusc species, from ca 150 authors since 1930 to 1960, to 400+ in 2000
and 600+ in 2008 (source = Philippe Bouchet)

3. The GBIF budget was 2.6 million euros in 2009. A rough calculation of the
cost of a new species description may be as follows:
- a taxonomist full salary cost may be approximately 60000 euros / year;
- he/she may describe at least 50 new species per year (much more in some
taxa), working full time at species description;
- so a new species description costs ca 1200 euros;
- the collection, infrastructure and publication costs may double this
amount, lets accept 2500 euros / species description;
- then ca 45,5 million euros  are spent yearly to describe 18225 species, ie
20 times the GBIF budget and probably ca 10 times the cost of all database
initiatives. The ratio would still be very much higher if we took into
consideration the capital immobilized in both cases (real estate, etc).
Spending the GBIF budget on species description would allow an increase in
description rate of  5-6%, which may well be less than the benefit resulting
from direct access to a lot of information which is physically fragmented in
places too numerous to allow easy access by more  than very few privileged
professionals.

So, and unless these rational figures are rationally demonstrated to be
false, taxonomists are not endangered and the cost of databases is trivial,
even if the quality and quantity of the information accessible obviously
need improvement.

I see actually two problems: the first is understanding why we perceive
taxonomists as endangered when objective observations indicate that this is
not the case, at least in a first approach; and the second problem is how we
can address the absence of any knowledge on something like 50 – 100% of all
living species.

Simon Tillier

-----Message d'origine-----
De : taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu><mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>> [mailto:taxacom-
bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu><mailto:bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>>] De la part de Bob Mesibov
Envoyé : jeudi 27 janvier 2011 00:34
À : Richard Pyle
Cc : TAXACOM
Objet : Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
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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