Well, so much for that. I was supposed to start writing something again, if just writing for the sake of writing. Six days of radio silence though, doesn’t count as a good start.
Carol Kaesuk Yoon had an interesting article in yesterday’s NY Times, about “the lost art of naming the world”. It’s a little bit all over the place – a little systematics, a little folk taxonomy, a little bit about disappearing languages. The most interesting bits were about folk taxonomies and the ability of University of Georgia undergrads to distinguish words for birds from words for fish in an indigenous Peruvian language. But the thing that got me thinking the most was what she said about the declining number of systematics positions, even as systematics made the transition to “using DNA sequences, sophisticated evolutionary theory and supercomputers to order and name all of life”.
The latest issue of Science discusses the attempt by a Microsoft scientist to patent the technique that lies at the base of systematics (see the discussion at John Hawks blog). It seems like this sort of thing is par for the course in molecular biology, where people try to patent anything they can. Now that industry turns its eye towards systematics, they should expect more of the same. Lovely.
With systematic tools becoming more important in ecology, evolution and biogeography, it this sort of news isn’t encouraging.
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