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John T Lonsdale
Wed, 19 Nov 2008 09:36:33 PST
Taxonomy is a hoot!  It is a fascinating and frustrating area of science
that seems to be the least dependent upon facts and the most open to
opinion.  There is no ultimately right answer - ever.  Once the facts
(whatever characters are being measured) have been established they can be
used as evidence to make whatever argument the taxonomist wants, even
conveniently ignoring several if they don't fit the desired end result.
Just moving a ruler up or down a dendrogram can create and destroy huge
entities like families.

It should also be remembered that many taxonomic decisions are based upon
the analysis of facts derived from herbarium material - which often bears no
resemblance to the living plant, is often wrongly identified in the first
place, and by definition is a single entity which can't possibly be
representative of all the populations out there in nature.

Dylan said "Botanists will be forever arranging and rearranging these units,
and the units themselves may change, but we can still recognize many natural
groups without undue worry about how they fit in the scheme of things".
True - because there is no scheme of things.  

The taxonomists union has an unwritten rule that no two people ever work in
the same area to ensure that 1) there are enough plants to go around and 2)
someone's opinion will always be right until the next installment comes

Long live taxonomy - even if it is just an opinion.



PS.  I am a card carrying taxonomist - my thesis involved taxonomic studies
of a bizarre group of acidophilic actinomycetes that live in acid coal mine
wastes.  Really important stuff - my mum never knew what to say when folks
asked her what I did.  

John T Lonsdale PhD
407 Edgewood Drive,
Exton, Pennsylvania 19341, USA

Home: 610 594 9232
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