Arquivos de periódicos de julho 2022

08 de julho de 2022

My Take on Taxonomy

Names are a human creation.

Scientific names are a human creation that is meant to link to species, a somewhat concrete way to classify plants which often works and sometimes doesn't work.

Classifying is useful. It's one of the things the human brain is really good at. Some of us (many autistic people as one example) are compulsively driven to classify and categorize and sort things.

Scientific names are meant to represent the evolutionary history and relationships of organisms. The hierarchical nature of scientific names is a very effective tool, though the different levels of classification, such as genus, species, and subspecies, are also somewhat arbitrary. Recently, new sorts of genetic analysis technology has allowed for us to learn even more about how species are related. Most scientists think genetic analysis can be used to track species lineages.

Scientific names - the Linnaean taxonomy system- are also the anchor for iNaturalist, necessary for iNaturalist to work at all.

New ideas about how species are related often appear in scientific literature. Some people on iNaturalist feel that the second any new possible evidence comes out, the scientific names should all be adjusted. These people have been put in charge of the species database of iNaturalist and for whatever reason also given moderator duties. Thus names are changing constantly.

The constantly changing names become less useful as tools, and much harder to use in database used to monitor biodiversity. There is some benefit to acting on new information, but there is a downside too that is always ignored. In fact some taxonomists become quite hostile when asked about it.

It's unfortunate that the people in charge of iNat have decided to go the 'constant taxonomic change' route. The site is meant to 'connect people with nature' and since that is largely done via identifying organisms, when the names don't work, inaturalist doesn't really work.

In the conservation world, there are always limited time and resources. Time and resources needs to be spent dealing with constant taxonomy change. It isn't just an irritation, it is a problem. No doubt thousands of hours of ecologist time has been wasted on excessive name changes, probably resulting in much less ecological inventory and possibly even resulting in species extinctions.

Ways to reduce these issues could consist of limiting the rate of change, limiting the frequency of change (release taxonomic changes only once every few years), limiting 'splitting' (splitting is dividing one species into two or several based on minute and obscure differences) and applying splitting to subspecies instead of species (subspecies are finer units that 'nest' within species). Some of this change could occur within iNaturalist but others are beyond the level of iNaturalist and lie within academia and other such places.

Unfortunately suggesting these things makes many taxonomists Very Angry. The names must always conform to the latest science, even if the latest science isn't settled science at all. Questioning the relative value of splitting and change, or questioning whether it should be applied to iNat, are a good way to get harassed by a lot of people on here. Some people of well established social status are able to 'bend' the iNat guidelines much more than others without consequence, the guidelines are not consistently enforced largely because the majority of people with moderator power are taxonomists or similar and will actively push non-taxonomist curators away. I find it all very frustrating, so instead of continuing to bicker with taxonomists i will make this journal post and link to it.

iNaturalist used to do a better job balancing change with stability, but unfortunately that is not the case any more. Hopefully in the future it will be again. I've changed back to displaying common names instead of scientific names because they are more consistent and useful. That says a lot doesn't it?

Note: Disagreeing and debating is fine but if you are going to come on here and tell me i don't know what i am talking about because i don't agree lock-step with taxonomists, you might as well just not do so. I'm fully aware of the issues involved, i just disagree with how taxonomy is practiced.

Here is what i would do if i were in charge (which is probably why i am never in charge):

-Revert taxonomy all back to before the madness started (maybe 2018 or so). All of it.
-Allow for reasonable creation of super-species and sub-species level taxonomic units for those who want to try to parse out new splits, but do NOT allow it to interfere with the 2018 taxonomy. Make it so that the real species still displays as well as the new proposed things. Maybe let people opt out if they want, though i wouldn't even opt out if it were clear what the 2018 name was too.
-in 2030 do a huge site wide review of taxonomy and if we still want these splits and changes, make all of them at once, up to changes made in 2025. The more recent ones need to wait for the next similar review in 5 to 10 more years. You could set up a way to create proposed draft changes, but they do NOT take effect until 2030 and at that time it will occur with lots of crosswalking and documentation. Maybe an exportable record of 2018 name.

The taxonomists can still use their splitty taxonomy via the taxonomic units, but the other 99% of us can use the site for its intended purposes of connecting people with nature and documenting biodiversity in a way that can be applied to real world conservation.

Posted on 08 de julho de 2022, 02:05 AM by charlie charlie | 21 comentários | Deixar um comentário