[Taxacom] Paper on one fly, but of general significance

JF Mate aphodiinaemate at gmail.com
Sun Dec 1 08:19:42 CST 2013


"de Meijere didn’t have the tools and
opportunities, but we do. Should we ignore this and continue as ever?"
(30/11/12 email)

I have tried to be explicit about separating the quality of the paper
(from a non-dipterist´s point of view, a very good redescription) from
the spirit in the sentence in the previous email (and in the article a
full paragraph at the end).  The point is that new technologies and
mass imaging have been around for a pretty long time. In fact I can
say that I haven´t had to borrow any type material from the last 20
years as I can rely almost entirely on the images in published
descriptions. So papers from the 90´s are still perfectly usable
today. Not bad. But the issue seems to be going even further into the
future:

"..The drawings of the habitus (Figs 57-58) are very nice, but
they are unlikely to capture as many details as today’s digital
photographs. ... "But we now have quick and cheap ways (high quality
digital photography) to illustrate more and prepare for future developments."

These two are logically inconsistent statements. In the same way that
early 20th century researchers could not future-proof themselves
technologically (how could they imagine colour photography, SEM,
digital...), neither could late 20th or early 21st or even you or I.
My trusty NIKON CoolPix 995 with its 3.34Mp chip was pretty good 13
years ago. It was cheap and produced high quality images that I could
manipulate in the computer to highlight and improve significant
features but now it has limited use. Any present technology which we
think is cutting edge will be old hat in 5 or 10 years, in the same
way as the images in the examples I provided. We are all in the same
boat (OK, some have better boats). So, although I appreciate the
quality of good papers and wish that those from the past were at least
half as "good" as today´s (through the present´s rosy-tinted
bespectacled point of view), the truth is that papers "improve" as
technology changes and older papers become progressively obsolete or
at least less practical. It is quite probable that researchers in the
early 20th had to struggle with sparse 18th and 19th century
descriptions and publish more detailed descriptions with the odd
illustration here and there, pushing the boundaries with the tools
they had at their disposal and producing descriptions which, they
hoped, would be useful into the future as well.

So you can neither technologically (nor taxonomically) future-proof
yourself. What we should all strive is for work that is useful now and
is complete enough that anybody, in the present, can use it without
resorting to borrowing the type. And your paper does just that.

Best

Jason

On 1 December 2013 12:06, Perochaeta cuirassa <sepsidnet at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dear Matt:
>
>
>
> Our paper is not about providing lots of good illustrations. There are lots
> of papers that do that (not only in Coleoptera but also in Diptera). We are
> pushing the notion of deliberately including too many illustration in
> anticipation of what may be needed in the future. I am quite sure that this
> must have been discussed elsewhere, but it is not in the Konstantinov paper
> that you linked. Konstantinov illustrates those structures that are
> currently deemed as important in beetle taxonomy. Other 'unimportant'
> structures and potentially new and relevant character systems are not
> covered. For example, color information and sculpturation are not shown via
> photography. The drawings of the habitus (Figs 57-58) are very nice, but
> they are unlikely to capture as many details as today’s digital
> photographs. The discussion in this thread also illustrates that the focus
> of most descriptions is still today’s diagnostic characters. This is fine
> for the descriptions itself because we can’t anticipate what may be
> important in the future. But we now have quick and cheap ways (high quality
> digital photography) to illustrate more and prepare for future developments.
>
>
>
> Yuchen
>
>
> ------------------------------------------------------
> Yuchen Ang
>
> *Evolutionary Biology Laboratory*
> National University of Singapore
> &
> *Sepsidnet*
> An online digital reference
> collection for the Sepsidae
>
>       <http://sepsidnet-rmbr.nus.edu.sg/>
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