[Taxacom] Taxonomy - crisis, what crisis?

Neal Evenhuis neale at bishopmuseum.org
Wed Oct 5 15:53:25 CDT 2011


Another thought  ... or two or three ....

The metric Joppa et al. use may be flawed. Numbers of species described per taxonomist only tells us the types of papers coming out since 1950. I.e., these are thus not revisionary works with a lot of new species, but rather shorter alpha-taxonomy papers describing only one or to species.

Another factor confounding their metric is the increasing "multiple-authorship" phenomenon for new species described. E.g., one new species gets described in a paper and there are 4 authors; which = 0.25 species per author. This does not exemplify a crisis in taxonomy or biodiversity (decreasing number of species per author) as much as how authors get promoted by having to put their names on papers to pump up their resumés.

Thomas is correct that in Diptera there has been a steady increase in recent years in the numbers of new taxonomists in Eurasia -- I'll be more specific that the two countries that far and away have increasing numbers of new taxonomists in Diptera are China and Brazil. But -- and it is an important but -- the measure of success of taxonomy is not necessarily shown by these increasing numbers. It is how many of these "new" authors REPEAT by publishing more than just an initial one or two papers when they were students.

What I see happening in Diptera is students publishing a couple of new species papers with their major prof and then after getting their degree do not get a job in taxonomy and go into another area of research or other employment. THAT phenomenon then dovetails with Chris's lament that the numbers of taxonomists in museums (and probably other institutions) is decreasing.

Thus we are where we are. A large set of active older taxonomists (as Mike Wilson says) and fewer new species being described per author -- probably simply because we are co-authoring more.

-Neal



On 10/5/11 10:21 AM, "Thomas Pape" <TPape at snm.ku.dk<mailto:TPape at snm.ku.dk>> scribbled the following tidbit:

There is much more to the 'sociology' of taxonomists. Our Diptera data
set (Systema Dipterorum) is interesting by showing that a large part of
the increase in rate of descriptions is due to a very high production in
EURASIA. Rates have levelled off or are even going down for all other
regions, and that rates go down for the tropical areas can hardly be
explained by a declining pool of new species. As we all know, there are
TONS of new species in the tropics, but bureaucracy, warfare, diseases,
etc. make our work in such regions less attractive, as do all those
activities Neal mentions.
/Thomas

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Neal Evenhuis
Sent: 5. oktober 2011 22:05
To: Roderic Page; taxacom
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Taxonomy - crisis, what crisis?

I think their analysis missed a very important point.

They say that given the decline in numbers of species described per
taxonomist since 1950 there must be a declining pool of species. This
does not take into account that some taxonomists are simply not
publishing new taxa anymore -- for various reasons (greater admin time,
teaching duties, grant writing for them and students, studies focusing
more on evolutionary relationships, etc.).

I would contend that we have plenty of taxonomists but the current
financial climate and funding priorities overall do not support
describing new taxa anymore. Maybe someone should do an analysis on
whether there is a positive, negative, or any correlation to the
apparent increasing amount of molecular research by "taxonomists" (since
that 1950 benchmark used by Joppa et al.) and the decreasing numbers of
new species per taxonomist they claim exists.

Just a thought ....

-Neal

On 10/5/11 6:37 AM, "Roderic Page"
<r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk<mailto:r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk><mailto:r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>> scribbled the
following tidbit:

Hot on the tail of the recent paper son the number of species comes
Joppa et al.'s paper in TREE
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2011.07.010 , which concludes:

"Conventional wisdom is highly prejudiced. It suggests that taxonomists
were a formerly more numerous people, are in 'crisis', are becoming
endangered and are generally asocial. We consider these hypotheses and
reject them to varying degrees."

It's an interesting paper. I've written a short blog post on the irony
that it will be hard to test their conclusions because the taxonomic
data they use isn't freely available, see
http://iphylo.blogspot.com/2011/10/taxonomy-crisis-what-crisis.html

Regards

Rod

---------------------------------------------------------
Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk<mailto:r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk><mailto:r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>
Tel: +44 141 330 4778
Fax: +44 141 330 2792
AIM: rodpage1962 at aim.com<mailto:rodpage1962 at aim.com><mailto:rodpage1962 at aim.com>
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1112517192
Twitter: http://twitter.com/rdmpage
Blog: http://iphylo.blogspot.com
Home page: http://taxonomy.zoology.gla.ac.uk/rod/rod.html


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