Unhappy taxonomists

Posted by Darren Ward @nzhymenoptera

If you’re short of ideas for a blog, then look no further than the twittersphere for inspiration, or at least something to rant about. In a world of covfefe it’s generally not hard to find something annoying. This week’s winner was the muppets who wrote “Taxonomy anarchy hampers conservation”, published in Nature.

giphy

They state: “…the scientific community’s failure to govern taxonomy threatens the effectiveness of global efforts to halt biodiversity loss…” really? I thought greed and hunger would be more important to global biodiversity loss?

Their solutions to ‘taxonomic governance’ border on the absurd; that taxonomy should be controlled by the International Union of Biological Sciences (who?). A four step process is suggested: i) effective leadership (covfefe?); ii) a commission, iii) a commission with subcommittees; and finally iv) a commission with subcommittees with a judicial committee. Yeah that will work, like all the other global commissions with committees and subcommittees.

The only good point about the article is that it [inadvertently] raises the issues of ‘the role of taxonomy in todays society’, and also the age old questions of ‘what is a species’ and ‘the process of speciation’. The role and value of taxonomy in the modern world is important to consider, especially in times of widespread funding cuts to natural sciences, museums, and the environment in general. Yet the authors are very naïve about the taxonomic process. Those working in the disciplines of biodiversity and conservation (and also the other biological sciences) are end users of taxonomy and names. But, fundamentally, taxonomists must have the ability to undertake science without interference. This must apply to all sciences.

The authors mention the importance of science debate (giving the example of whether the Anthropocene is real), yet they then fail to see the importance of debate for taxonomy and species concepts. They also fail to mention that other science disciplines also struggle to define the natural world by simple terms; what is a “habitat”, an “invasive species”, is Pluto a planet? Not everything fits into a well-defined box.

This is the reason I don’t publish in Nature.

Darren Ward is an entomologist, Head Curator at the New Zealand Arthropod Collection at Landcare Research, and a senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.

 

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