[Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy

Peter Rauch peterar at berkeley.edu
Wed Jun 7 10:44:56 CDT 2017

On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 3:37 AM, Alastair Culham <a.culham at reading.ac.uk>

"Ultimately use governs all", I believe in referring to how taxonomy is
practiced (or applied?, or used?).

Utility might color how well Taxonomy is supported/funded, becomes "known"
by its various user constituencies. But, the fundamental nature of Taxonomy
--as a reflection of biotic evolution-- emerges from the sound practice of
Science, not from the demands of uses/users.

Further on, Alastair wrote:

"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."

Exactly. Ultimately, Science (scientific methods of discovery, learning,
exposition) governs  ('good', 'credible') Taxonomy's "all".      The rest
comes after.


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
> ____________________________________________

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