Stranger Fruit

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  1. #1 Daniel Geiger
    November 19, 2007

    OBIS, IndOBIS, Species 2000, All Species, Tree of Life, Encyclopedia of Life etc for species accounts; GenBank, European Genbank, BOLD for gene sequences; Morphbank, MorphObank for morphology. Then the auxiliary projects like ZooBank, TDWG, GBIF, … Then the DOA ones like Linnaeus.

    These are the existing platforms. What does Cybertaxonomy add to this? How many species have been described by ASU? A reduction of number of pet projects is in order, not their proliferation.

    D. Geiger (~40 taxa described, subject editor Mollusca: Zootaxa)

  2. #2 John Lynch
    November 20, 2007

    > How many species have been described by ASU?

    What has that got to do with anything? It’s about as important as you noting that you have described “~40 taxa”.

  3. #3 Alex
    November 26, 2007

    As a taxonomist, I concur with Daniel Geiger’s comment. There has been a proliferation of cybertaxonomy projects, many of which duplicate existing efforts. Most of the money for these projects goes into the computer technology, IT staff, and marketing. The amount allocated to taxonomic research itself is next to nothing, and most of the time taxonomists are encouraged to participate out of the goodness of their hearts. While everyone else gets paid. No thanks.

  4. #4 David Marjanović
    November 26, 2007

    I stopped watching at -4:05. It’s just too silly.

  5. #5 Daniel Geiger
    November 27, 2007

    The video’s main point is that there are lots of undescribed species. So what is the solution? Describing those species. [Mogatu’s “Or am I taking CRAZY PILLS?!?” springs to mind] Not yet another web project. The relevance of me having described species is, that I know what I talk about. Given Lynch’s evading answer (i.e., not countering “our staff has described xxx species”), indicates that as at most other universities, ASU does not actively address the biodiversity crisis problem. It is lip-service as usual. However, ASU is not shy of trying to “help” me with my work, although not having the least of expertise in it. The word hybris springs to mind.

    What do we need? We need paid position for taxonomists. Note that half of the PhD students and post-docs from the flagship NSF PEET project do not work in taxonomy. At that level one can presume that the people are actually interested in taxonomy. See Agnarsson, I. & M. Kunter. 2007. Taxonomy in a changing world: Seeking solutions for a science in crisis. Systematic Biology 56: 531-539. A program that has 50% attrition rate for what ever reason is a failure, and in this case a waste of tax dollars.

    So what we need are job postings that include “the successful candidate has a proven track record in describing species”, and we need tenure requirements for systematists of all shades (including evolutionary biologists and phylogeneticists) that mandate a continued track record of describing species. I have yet to see ANY job posting that includes such a statement, even for museum positions. This right there tells you about the value of taxonomy.

    Then we will get courses taught in taxonomy, which is urgently needed because most biologists don’t know the difference between a species, a taxon, and an epithet. Or distinguishing between synonym and altered generic placement (Murex trunculus, Truculariopsis trunculus and Hexaplex trunculus are NOT synonyms, contrary to most ecologists’ assertions).

    Please do not misconstrue this as a call for purely descriptive positions. The vast majority of taxonomists expand on the fundamental [as in providing the foundation for subsequent analysis] biodiversity work with phylogenetics, anatomy, morphometrics, biogeography, you name it. But there are too many phylogeneticists, evolutionary biologists, who do not contribute to providing knowledge about the hidden diversity on our planet.

    Then there is the impact factor issue, but no need to go into that here.

    What do I need [speaking as a person with actual track record in the field]?
    – a World georeferenced place name tab delimited file (i.e., the Geographic Gazetteers, plus google earth plus fallingrain, plus … in e-format), including colonial names, marine features, and Germanic spellings of Chinese place names. This should plug into all normal dbs such as Access, FileMaker, and Specify as a one-to-many portal. Georeferencing is one of those tedious jobs. Oh, yes, intelligent error/misspelling permission, would also be nice, maybe through some Bayesian approach.
    – A global taxon list bridging Sherborn and Zoological Record. Fortunately we have it for Mollusca (Ruhoff volume), but for the rest its not there. Sherborn combined with Neave etc. may also be worth while.

    I agree with Alex, that I am not willing to contribute my expertise for free anymore. Unless Tree of Life, Encyclopedia of Life etc. are paying upwards of $150/h, I pass. That’s the price for being the world expert on a couple of families, one being commercially important (abalone).

    I am sick and tired of being perceived of “just” doing descriptive work. Again, speaking from experience as an editor for Zootaxa [the megajournal for taxonomy with ~20,000 pages published annually], the worst manuscripts come from professional, non-taxonomist biologists; most amateur shell collectors do a better job. Descriptions are perceived as this no-brainer activity, until one actually does one. The remedy to alter this perception is to force biologists through job descriptions and tenure requirements to engage in this fundamental practice.

    OK, enough of a rant. I won’t come back here any more. You can reach me through my e-mail.

    Daniel Geiger
    over and out

  6. #6 John Lynch
    November 27, 2007

    Since Daniel Geiger has said he wont return, this is moot, but I’ll go ahead and reply anyways.

    The reason I didn’t reply with a “our staff has described xxx species” answer is two fold. Firstly, it’s an answer that is as asinine as the original statement by Geiger (“How many species have been described by ASU?”) which ahas nothing to do with the merits – whatever they may be – of the project. Secondly, I have better things to do than count up the number of taxonomic publications by past and present faculty at ASU. But here – for example – is a starter. Recent taxonomic works from two of the faculty at ASU’s School of Life Sciences:

    Mooi, R.D. and A.C. Gill. In press. Notograptidae, sister to Acanthoplesiops Regan (Teleostei: Plesiopidae: Acanthoclininae), with comments on biogeography, diet and morphological convergence with Congrogadinae (Teleostei: Pseudochromidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

    Gill, A.C. and H. Tanaka. In press. Pholidochromis cerasina, a new species of pseudochromine dottyback from the West Pacific (Perciformes: Pseudochromidae). Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

    Gill, A.C. and S.L. Jewett. In press. Eviota hoesei and E. readerae, new species of fish from the southwest Pacific, with comments on the identity of E. corneliae Fricke (Perciformes: Gobiidae). Records of the Australian Museum.

    Gill, A.C. and D.F. Hoese. In press. Three new Australian species of the fish genus Xenisthmus (Gobioidei: Xenisthmidae). Records of the Australian Museum.

    Gill, A.C. and A.J. Edwards. In press. Revision of the Indian Ocean dottyback fish genera Chlidichthys and Pectinochromis (Perciformes: Pseudochromidae: Pseudoplesiopinae). Smithiana Bulletin.

    Mooi, R.D. and A.C. Gill. In press. Description of a new species of the fish genus Acanthoplesiops Regan (Teleostei: Plesiopidae: Acanthoclininae) from Tonga. Zootaxa.

    Gill, A.C. 2004. Revision of the Indo-Pacific dottyback fish subfamily Pseudochrominae (Perciformes: Pseudochromidae). Smithiana Monograph 1: iii + 1-214, pls 1-12.

    Gill, A.C. and A.J. Edwards. 2003. Pseudoplesiops wassi, a new species of dottyback fish (Teleostei: Pseudochromidae: Pseudoplesiopinae) from the West Pacific. Zootaxa 291: 1-7.

    Edwards, A.J., A.C. Gill and P.O. Abohweyere. 2003. A revision of F.R. Irvines Ghanaian marine fishes in the collection of the Natural History Museum, London. Journal of Natural History 37(18): 2213-2267.

    Mooi, R.D. & A.C. Gill. 2003. Grammatidae. Pp. 1370-1373. In: K.E. Carpenter (ed.). FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Atlantic. Volume 2. Bony fishes part 1 (Acipenseridae to Grammatidae). FAO, Rome.

    Gill, A.C. and U. Zajonz. 2003. Halidesmus socotraensis new species and Haliophis guttatus (Forsskl), new records of congrogadine fishes from the Socotra Archipelago (Perciformes: Pseudochromidae). Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 116(1): 52-60.

    Gill, A.C. and H. Senou. 2002. Lubbockichthys tanakai, a new species of pseudoplesiopine dottyback from the West Pacific (Perciformes: Pseudochromidae). Aqua, Journal of Ichthyology and Aquatic Biology 6(1): 1-4.

    Miller, K. B. and Q. D. Wheeler. 2005. Slime mold beetles of the genus Agathidium (Coleoptera: Leiodidae) of North and Central America, Part II. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 290: 1-167.

    Wheeler, Q. D. and K. B. Miller. 2005. Slime mold beetles of the genus Agathidium (Coleoptera: Leiodidae) of North and Central America, Part I. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 290: 1-95.

    Now, as it happens, Wheeler knows as much about beetles as Geiger does about abalone. And Wheeler is directing the ASU IISE. He does taxonomy and knows what is involved.

    Accusations of “hybris” are a little premature considering Geiger made no attempt to examine whether people at ASU were doing taxonomic work and accuses ASU of “not having the least of expertise”.

    The rest of Geiger’s comment is little more than projection. No one involved with the IISE has argued that Geiger (or anyone) “just” does descriptive work. I wish him luck in getting paid for his taxonomic work. I really do.

  7. #7 Quentin Wheeler
    December 27, 2007

    Let me add that ASU is putting its money where its mouth is. ASU is about to advertise for a tenure/tenure-track faculty line for a taxonomist. A requirement is that the successful candidate describe species in the form of taxonomic revisions and monographs. The IISE does not officially launch until March, 2008, so its first steps are in the right direction.

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