Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Are a few bad scientists threatening to topple taxonomy (biological species concept)?

arroba Email

Or are they just exposing the flaws in the system? From Benjamin Jones at Smithsonian Mag:

To study life on Earth, you need a system. Ours is Linnaean taxonomy, the model started by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1735. Linnaeus’s two-part species names, often Latin-based, consist of both a genus name and a species name, i.e. Homo sapiens. Like a library’s Dewey Decimal system for books, this biological classification system has allowed scientists around the world to study organisms without confusion or overlap for nearly 300 years.

But, like any library, taxonomy is only as good as its librarians—and now a few rogue taxonomists are threatening to expose the flaws within the system. Taxonomic vandals, as they’re referred to within the field, are those who name scores of new taxa without presenting sufficient evidence for their finds. Like plagiarists trying to pass off others’ work as their own, these glory-seeking scientists use others’ original research in order to justify their so-called “discoveries.”

“It’s unethical name creation based on other people’s work,” says Mark Scherz, a herpetologist who recently named a new species of fish-scaled gecko. “It’s that lack of ethical sensibility that creates that problem.”

The goal of taxonomic vandalism is often self-aggrandizement. Even in such an unglamorous field, there is prestige and reward—and with them, the temptation to misbehave. “If you name a new species, there’s some notoriety to it,” Thomson says. “You get these people that decide that they just want to name everything, so they can go down in history as having named hundreds and hundreds of species.” More.

If taxonomy and the biological species concept were not in a state of collapse, there would be genome-based standards or other agreed forms of natural measurement, as is usual in science. Then this would not be happening. Darwinians would prefer to pretend that their ruin is still standing and doubters are evil morons. Saves further and more detailed explanation.

See also: Speciation: Do interspecies hybrids help drive evolution?


Nothing says “Darwin snob” like indifference to the mess that the entire concept of speciation is in

Serious but perhaps bizarre question: Couldn't scientists dispense with the concept of "species", yet still carry out their work? What would change? I'm guessing it would be wildly impractical, but these taxonomic categories are bound to be somewhat arbitrary, and perhaps not strictly necessary. What "really exists" is a gigantic collection of reproducing organisms, and for any pair of these organisms, there is some degree of reproductive isolation, from none to essentially complete. A wolf and a coyote may be able to reproduce, but a mosquito and a blue whale? No way. We could still talk about whether a specific pair of organisms share a common ancestor or not---for example it is either the case or not that I and Koko (the famous gorilla) share a common ancestor---without referring to "species" explicitly. daveS

Leave a Reply