(no subject)

Joe Shaw jshaw@opuntiads.com
Tue, 08 May 2007 16:14:45 PDT
Hi Gang,

Recently, Nature magazine ran a wonderful series of articles celebrating the contributions of Carl Linnaeus.  Many of the articles are subscription only, but two seem to allow free access. 

LINK:  We are family (the tree of life) 


LINK:  Linnaeus in the information age 



The list of titles is fascinating and wonderful, as it should be when celebrating the contributions Linnaeus made to modern science.  

The legacy of Linnaeus 

The species and the specious 

The royal raccoon from Swedesboro 

Linnaeus in the information age Free access 

Plant taxonomy: The love of plants 

Hydatellaceae identified as a new branch near the base of the angiosperm phylogenetic tree 

Hybrid speciation 

I think that most of the articles are via subscription only, but here is a Web index for the various articles and perhaps you can find them at your local library.  

LINK:  Linnaeus at 300, Index to articles 





What has interested me also is a letter of reply to the journal that was posted by a scientist.  He writes (this week) about one of the tragic scientific myths that Linnaeus propagated, the notion that taxonomy can be applied to human groups.  The writer argues that Linnaeus had impact far beyond science, some of it not so pleasant.  


"Your 15 March issue honouring Carl Linnaeus brings to mind what is probably his most significant contribution to modern life: the idea that groups of people can be regarded as naturally distinct taxonomic entities, or subspecies, in the same fashion as species, genera and higher categories. 

In the first edition of Systema Naturae, published in 1735, before formalizing binominal species nomenclature, Linnaeus presented humans as sorting naturally into whitish Europeans (Homo Europaeus albescens), reddish Americans, dark Asians and blackish Africans. By the 10th edition, in 1758, these had become subspecies, colour-coded as red Americans, white Europeans, yellow Asians and black Africans.

It has taken two and a half centuries to shed Linnaeus's fallacy that the human species comes taxonomically organized into a few large, natural groups that are fairly homogeneous and fairly distinct from one another. We have come to understand, rather, that the predominant patterns of human variation are cultural, polymorphic, clinal and local. 

This does not mean that everyone is the same, or that there is no biogeographic differentiation within our species. It means just that the effort to treat our own species taxonomically has considerably more social and symbolic than biological meaning." (from Nature 2007, http://vol.com:447/, p. 28)




The letter writer is referring to one of the findings of human genomics, that humans just don't fit genetically into racial groups.  Another way to put it is that humans are genetically less diverse than most other mammals.  Still another way to state the finding is that most of the genetic variation observed in humans occurs within populations, rather than between populations (even populations on different continents).  It turns out that visual differences (e.g., human skin color) are meaningless in taxonomic terms but important in social terms; nonetheless, Linnaeus-type taxonomy fostered the idea that different groups of humans are vastly different from each other (genetically).  


With all of that in mind, I wonder how often we make taxonomic designations in plants based upon what is  irrelevant in Nature, and vice versa.  


Conroe TX
Albuca shawii seems ready to bloom

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