[Taxacom] Multiple views, singular views, and hopelessness

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sat Aug 31 19:30:00 CDT 2013

To some extent I agree with Rod. Note also that maps of the world have always been quite popular, even if nobody actually "needs" one. I have seen them stuck to many an inside wall, etc. The map analogy may not be a good one, however, as, presumably the global map is just a simple synthesis of many regional ones. However, given such issues as homonymy, I suggest that a global biodiversity database is needed before we can perfect the parts out of which it is constructed. There is a feedback loop of sorts. The classification of life is intrinsically in flux, and is therefore not well-suited to the infrastructure of a biodiversity database. This is why I suggest that we use a single classification for the latter, but simply do not interpret it as "the truth", but rather as just an information management device (a "filing cabinet"). Rod has, of course, taken this to the logical extreme in past Taxacom posts, lobbying for binomials themselves to be stripped
 of any phylogenetic  "meaning". I don't think that it is necessary to go that far ...

From: Roderic Page <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>
To: TAXACOM taxacom <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> 
Sent: Saturday, 31 August 2013 11:39 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Multiple views, singular views, and hopelessness

At some level everything is complicated and contested, but to function we have to treat a significant part of the world as uncomplicated and straightforward so that we can deal with just that complexity that interests us. So, part of this discussion seems to be about what "users" need from taxonomy in order to do what they need to do. I suspect (but have no data) that most simply won't care about multiple hypotheses (in the same way I want a weather service to tell me if it will rain, not give me three alternative models and their predictions).

I was struck by Paul's comment "The person who wants a classification of everything, all at once, is actually pretty rare and certainly he won't actually need it: he will only want it (and perhaps only because he cannot have it)."

In one sense I agree. I use maps a lot, for the most part I don't care about a map of the world ("everything"), I just need a local map ("where is that place I want to have lunch at?"). But the infrastructure that enables me to have a local map is itself global: huge amounts of data have been collected, cleaned, munged together, reconciled, aligned with a common coordinate system, and made available, of which I see a tiny fraction of that on my iPhone. The question is local, the tool that gives me the answer is global.



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
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