[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Tony.Rees at csiro.au Tony.Rees at csiro.au
Thu Jan 27 22:26:16 CST 2011


Hi Stephen, all,

Well I have figures (and reasonably well scrutinized lists) to support a figure of around 2000-2500 new genus names published each year across all groups, for at least the past couple of decades. On a very rough basis that maybe 10 times as many new species as new genera are described on average, a figure of 18k new species per looks perfectly believable if not a little low, which would fit with Tony Gill's comment below. (I have elsewhere heard a figure of 25k new species descriptions/year quoted in another context a year or two back, which would also be believable in that scenario).

Regards - Tony


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Anthony Gill [mailto:gill.anthony at gmail.com]
> Sent: Friday, 28 January 2011 3:17 PM
> To: Stephen Thorpe
> Cc: Rees, Tony (CMAR, Hobart); g.read at niwa.co.nz;
> taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
>
> The numbers are similar to ones for previous years, so if there is
> some sort of inflation going on, then it is a constant. The data was
> usually provided as numbers of new species for each higher taxon. (The
> first year, I asked Zoological Record for a breakdon by animal
> families, but that proved an awful lot of work to make sense of!). I'm
> not sure of how the providers came up with the numbers, so I guess
> there is chance that there is some inflation. My gut feeling however
> is that the numbers are conservative, because - owing to the lag in
> capturing new species descriptions - numbers for a given year
> continued to rise after the SOS 1 April cutoff date. (At least this
> was the case for IPNI data i checked one year.)
>
> If you are interested, it might be worth checking, say, the Zoological
> Records data against another source. One possible option might be
> Catalog of Fishes. (If so, bear in mind that Catalog of Fishes only
> tracks Recent fishes, so you would have to make sure you excluded
> Fossil taxa from the Zoo Records data.)
>
> Tony
>
> On Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 3:06 PM, Stephen Thorpe
> <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz> wrote:
> > thanks for that, Tony
> >
> > I'm not at all worried about "complete accuracy", but only about "ball
> park
> > figures", and 18000+ for 2008 seems just way too high to me, but this is
> > based on little more than "gut feeling"
> > the "sources", as such, are not really the issue, but rather how the
> data
> > was extracted and manipulated, and that I don't know
> >
> > do you think it possible that the number quoted for 2008 could somehow
>  be,
> > say, twice as much as the actual figure??
> >
> > Stephen
> >
> > ________________________________
> > From: Anthony Gill <gill.anthony at gmail.com>
> > To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
> > Cc: Tony.Rees at csiro.au; g.read at niwa.co.nz; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> > Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 4:54:25 PM
> > Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >
> > I was behind pulling together SOS numbers for the first couple of
> > years for the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU.
> > The sources (partner organisations) are documented in the SOS reports,
> > and include Zoological Record, International Journal of Systematic and
> > Evolutionary Microbiology, and International Plant Names Index.
> > However, the counts are never going to be completely accurate as the
> > data providers could only provide a time slice of the data as it came
> > in; for the bulk of groups, new species descriptions are scattered
> > across a huge number of journals and books. This is one reason why the
> > report is released a year behind the "Top 10" competition (i.e., 2008
> > SOS numbers were released in 2010, but the Top 10 for that year was
> > for 2009 new species).
> >
> > I don't think too much attention should be paid to the total numbers
> > of species listed in the SOS reports, however.
> >
> > Tony
> >
> > On Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 2:11 PM, Stephen Thorpe
> > <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz> wrote:
> >> Tony, Geoff,
> >> I think that you are missing the crucial point, which is that we don't
> >> know
> >> *exactly how* these numbers were calculated (I haven't yet read through
> >> all the
> >> SOS documentation, however). The numbers seem well o.t.t. to me, so I
> urge
> >> caution until we know *exactly how* they were calculated ...
> >> Stephen
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> ________________________________
> >> From: "Tony.Rees at csiro.au" <Tony.Rees at csiro.au>
> >> To: stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz; neale at bishopmuseum.org;
> tillier at mnhn.fr;
> >> mesibov at southcom.com.au; deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
> >> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> >> Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 4:00:50 PM
> >> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >>
> >>
> >> Hi Stephen, all,
> >>
> >> The numbers quoted earlier do not come from GNI, but from here:
> >>
> >> http://www.species.asu.edu/SOS
> >>
> >> where they are compiled from a range of reputable sources, all cited I
> >> think.
> >>
> >> Cheers - Tony
> >>
> >>
> >>> -----Original Message-----
> >>> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
> >>> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
> >>> Sent: Friday, 28 January 2011 1:58 PM
> >>> To: Neal Evenhuis; tillier at mnhn.fr; Bob Mesibov; Richard Pyle
> >>> Cc: taxacom
> >>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >>>
> >>> >Therefore, GNI is not really the place to see how many new species
> were
> >>> proposed
> >>> >in a given year
> >>>
> >>> yes, but someone might try to use it for that, so we need to beware
> >>>
> >>> I don't think that there is a place to see how many new species were
> >>> proposed in
> >>> a given year! Isn't that one of the things biodiversity informatics is
> >>> (slowly)
> >>> working towards??
> >>>
> >>> so, I think we should be *highly cautious* about any claimed numbers
> ...
> >>> I
> >>> still
> >>> think 18000 is an order of magnitude too high for 2008 ... but how can
> I
> >>> check?
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> Stephen
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> ________________________________
> >>> From: Neal Evenhuis <neale at bishopmuseum.org>
> >>> To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; "tillier at mnhn.fr"
> >>> <tillier at mnhn.fr>; Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>; Richard Pyle
> >>> <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
> >>> Cc: taxacom <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
> >>> Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 3:52:38 PM
> >>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >>>
> >>> 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:til
> >>> lier 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:bounc
> >>> es 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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> >>>
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> >>>
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> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> _______________________________________________
> >>
> >> Taxacom Mailing List
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> >
> >
> >
> > --
> > Dr Anthony C. Gill
> > Natural History Curator
> > A12 Macleay Museum
> > University of Sydney
> > NSW 2006
> > Australia.
> >
> > E-mail:  anthony.c.gill at sydney.edu.au
> >
> >
>
>
>
> --
> Dr Anthony C. Gill
> Natural History Curator
> A12 Macleay Museum
> University of Sydney
> NSW 2006
> Australia.
>
> E-mail:  anthony.c.gill at sydney.edu.au




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