[Taxacom] Taxonomic freedom under threat: seriously dodgy politics going on

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Dec 1 18:58:03 CST 2016

The following article was rightly rejected by Nature (which the authors themselves state, as if it were a good thing!), but published anyway by Zootaxa: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310670794_Photography-based_taxonomy_is_inadequate_unnecessary_and_potentially_harmful_for_biological_sciences

The article itself is less than 1 page in length, but there are 300 "authors", and the article currently has nearly 14K reads on ResearchGate, far more reads than any other taxonomic paper ever in such a short time!

The article is a rhetorical opinion piece, making no rational sense whatsoever. The authors are using it to try to force a ban in taxonomy on holotypes known only by photos (e.g. Marleyimyia xylocopae Marshall & Evenhuis, 2015). I'm feel certain that many of the authors are sitting around all day, revisiting the article page on ResearchGate, trying to boost the stats in order to give it the appearance of being something important! They claim that their view is that of "the majority of taxonomists". Debate on RG got just a little bit heated. I was insulted several times, which doesn't bother me, but due to firing off a couple of very mild insults in return, my account on RG has now been suspended!

Actually, I don't really care if "photo based taxonomy" (PBT) getrs banned or not. It won't directly affect me either way. What does annoy me, however, is the fundamentally flawed arguments being insisted upon by the aggressive mob of authors.

Their argument is basically just that certain problems can result from PBT, so it should be banned. BUT, the exact same problems can result anyway (and often do) from a poor choice of type specimen. They are merely problems resulting from poor choice of type specimen, be it known only via photo OR preserved as a specimen! Clearly, it is impractical to require quality checking of type specimens for all such types, prior to publication. It is even impractical to require checking prior to publication that the type specimen really exists, or that it has or will be deposited in the stated collection. The authors don't even mention these problems arising from poor type specimens, they just insist that these problems are somehow associated with PBT! But a good photo can be better than a poor specimen, and certainly can be better than no specimen at all (e.g. Marleyimyia xylocopae Marshall & Evenhuis, 2015), so why ban PBT for problems that can arise anyway?

IMHO, what we have here is an example of "taxonomic politics" at its very worst. A mob of taxonomists (a somewhat geographically biased mob at that) is trying to aggressively dictate what the rest of us can or cannot do, based on meaningless rhetoric masquerading as "reasoning". The "metrics" system is being hijacked for these nefarious purposes. All those authors are going to get citation credits for something that is nothing more than a logically flawed half page of rhetoric, while other taxonomists struggle to gain citation credits for actually doing hard taxonomic work. Something is very wrong here.


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