[Taxacom] Enquiry from Calodema - The Website of Dr Trevor J Hawkeswood

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sun Mar 6 17:17:20 CST 2011

Hi Wolfgang,

> the fundamental task of describing and naming the planet's biodiversity

I'm with you there, this is very important, and I certainly wish some "bona 
fide" taxonomists in this part of the world would actually describe and name 
something ... maybe this year there will be something, maybe not ...

>Your point is like arguing that airline passengers should not complain about 
>uncomfortable seats because the Wright brothers had to lie on the wing of their 
>first planes

your analogy isn't quite "Wright"! The difference is that taxonomists *today* 
still have to deal with Linnaeus' (etc.) mess, so there are coping strategies in 
place which can be applied to the work of Makhan, etc., who aren't really all 
that prolific anyway. If they were to become mega-prolific, then I might have to 
have a rethink, but I don't think that they are up to it ...


From: Wolfgang Wuster <w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk>
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Mon, 7 March, 2011 11:54:15 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Enquiry from Calodema - The Website of Dr Trevor J 

On 06/03/2011 21:34, Weakley, Alan S wrote:
>  But, as has been much discussed here before, there is no particularly
>  effective way to weed out poor work, and poor work can be found in
>  all parts of academia (whether of low repute or high), such as the
>  recent revelation that some papers that linked vaccines to autism was
>  fraudulent. This case has nothing to do with why taxonomy is
>  sometimes held in low repute by some in other biological
>  disciplines.

Sorry, but it has a fair bit to do with the repute of taxonomy. The 
regular waves of controversy generated by particularly extreme examples 
of taxonomic vandalism (e.g., several reports in Nature in the last 
decade alone) contribute significantly to taxonomy's poor reputation, as 
a science too preoccupied with rules that give crackpots the benefit of 
the doubt to keep sight of the fundamental task of describing and naming 
the planet's biodiversity.

>  The suggestion that exaggerated credentials are an issue here seems
>  like a red herring. We can probably all point to scientific work
>  ranging from excellent to horrendous, the full range in each case
>  produced by academics, museum people, agency people, and amateurs,
>  and by people with Ph.D.'s and people with no college degree
>  whatsoever. There has certainly been a lot of excellent work done in
>  taxonomy (and physics and math and microbiology and linguistics
>  and... ) by people with no academic credentials.

I don't think anyone suggests judging Hawkeswood's taxonomy based on his 
qualifications or lack thereof. However, I for one *will* judge his 
persona by his use of a bogus, bought degree that he uses to claim 
unearned respect in a professional context. I would suggest that that 
says quite a lot about him. And one thing it helps illustrate is part of 
the psychological pathology underlying taxonomic vandalism. It's not 
about misguided but well-intentioned amateurs trying to make a 
contribution, it's about egomaniacs trying to achieve a degree of 
immortality in the one field of science in which the rules force the 
rest of us to pay attention to nonsense that scientists in any other 
discipline would simply and rightly be entitled to ignore.

>  Moreover, peer review and various regulations regarding publication
>  can only go so far. In my opinion, peer review is often used to
>  prevent publication of legitimate scientific work representing an
>  alternative view to that help by a reigning expert (who is also the
>  peer reviewer). It would be scientifically better if those
>  alternative views were aired and judged more broadly in the
>  intellectual marketplace.

Given the number of journals available nowadays, I find it very hard to 
believe that suppression of ideas is ever going to go very far in 
today's scientific literature. I'm sure most active, publishing 
academics will have received negative reviews motivated by personal 
grudges, envy or the pride of someone thinking that they own the field - 
and yet, most of us have eventually had our papers published. For that 
matter, most journals/editors will respect a request not to use a 
particular individual as a reviewer. The idea of the all-powerful, 
omnipresent all-suppressing expert is grossly outdated and out of tune 
with the reality of taxonomic publishing today.

Second, in taxonomy, ideas (names) are not subject to market forces in 
the marketplace, but are set in concrete by the first namer - which is 
of course the reason taxonomy attracts so many crackpots.

On 06/03/2011 21:48, Stephen Thorpe wrote:

>  I agree completely with Alan: the only person who is harmed by Hawkeswood's
>  journal is Hawkeswood himself, and the only person who is harmed by Makhan's
>  papers is Makhan. They are like those deluded souls who go on American Idol 
>  whatever, only to be laughed at and eliminated in the first round.

The problem is that in taxonomy, everyone who comes along later is forced to 
sing their song and dance to their tune.

>  It is
>  surely an absurd argument to say that a discipline, like taxonomy, is brought
>  into disrepute by those who aren't very good at it! As for not being able to
>  ignore their poor quality work, well it is probably better taxonomy than
>  Linnaeus or Fabricius, and yet we cope with those OK.

Linnaeus worked according to the standards of his time. Makhan and Hawkeswood 
are not working to the standard of theirs. Your point is like arguing that 
airline passengers should not complain about uncomfortable seats because the 
Wright brothers had to lie on the wing of their first planes.

Dr. Wolfgang Wüster  -  Lecturer
School of Biological Sciences
Bangor University
Environment Centre Wales
Bangor LL57  2UW
Wales, UK

Tel: +44 1248 382301
Fax: +44 1248 382569
E-mail: w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk

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