[Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy

Alastair Culham a.culham at reading.ac.uk
Wed Jun 7 05:37:32 CDT 2017


I've also seen the debate late in the day but am not sure I agree entirely with Stephen's ignore it and it will go away approach.  Having been closely involved in Catalogue of Life through two major EU grants (4D4Life and i4Life) I'm very aware of the challenge of getting even a basic list of all living organisms together and even more painfully aware of the challenges of getting agreement on a taxonomy.  There is no single species concept that gives acceptable (to the working taxonomic community, and I suspect to the users of taxonomy such as conservationists) species boundaries over all of life and probably no two taxonomic experts on one group that have exactly the same opinion of an optimal classification.  Ultimately use governs all.

I think Stephen is right in saying "...two authors, who are proposing that a significant bureaucracy is built and hard and complex decisions are agreed to! In short, it ain't gonna happen!" - we've poured millions into Catalogue of Life over many years and it is not a complete work as yet, nor will it ever be - new species are discovered every year, new techniques identify differences not previously spotted, broader data sets some show different species to be the same, opinions on what a species is do change.  Trying to fix an inherently dynamic system is like channelling a river, it works until the first flood.

However, there are temporary working solutions to the list of species (the Plant List for plants is an obvious one) that are known to be imperfect and incomplete.  Taxonomists have been working with bioinformaticians for decades to try to improve the collation of such lists and the underlying concepts.  It is not a simple matter. 

The article in Nature is fundamentally false in its assertion that taxonomists make changes without considering others.  Those taxonomic changes are being made to help others - but perhaps the help is not welcome because it then casts doubt on sometimes rather fixed assertions made in those other fields.  Science is fundamentally dynamic and builds on new data and new theories, and it is fundamentally naïve to think taxonomy does not and should not fit the general thread of science.

My concern is that simply ignoring the article will make taxonomists look either high handed (not bothering to defend the criticism) or scared that another field has a solution to a problem they cannot solve.

I do hope to see a repost to the opinion.

Alastair

____________________________________________

Dr Alastair Culham
Harborne Building, School of Biological Sciences
University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6AS, U.K.

Associate Professor of Botany, Curator, Reading University Herbarium (RNG)
University Teaching Fellow, Associate Editor, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society
____________________________________________

 

-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
Sent: 07 June 2017 10:59
To: Taxacom(taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu} <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>; Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy

Sorry for the late comment on this, and I've been too busy to read all the other replies, but, at the risk of repeating what others may have already said, I would now like to make a brief comment: 

Don't panic! This is an opinion piece by two authors, who are proposing that a significant bureaucracy is built and hard and complex decisions are agreed to! In short, it ain't gonna happen! No need to react, just do nothing and nothing will happen!

Stephen

--------------------------------------------
On Fri, 2/6/17, Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org> wrote:

 Subject: [Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy
 To: "Taxacom(taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu}" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Received: Friday, 2 June, 2017, 2:56 AM
 
 Another thing for taxonomists to worry
 about:
 
 https://www.nature.com/news/taxonomy-anarchy-hampers-conservation-1.22064
 
 "Taxonomy anarchy" and its supposed
 solution. Journal Nature.
 
 
 -------
 Richard H. Zander
 Missouri Botanical Garden - 4344 Shaw
 Blvd. - St. Louis - Missouri - 63110 - USA  richard.zander at mobot.org<mailto:richard.zander at mobot.org>
 Web sites: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/bfna/bfnamenu.htm and  http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/
 
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