Friday, January 23, 2004

Taxonomy: Impediment or Expedient?

Quentin D. Wheeler, Peter H. Raven, Edward O. Wilson have written an important editorial in Science magazine: "Taxonomy: Impediment or Expedient?". (You may not be able to download if you don't subscribe to Science.) They call for putting the field of Taxonomy in with "Big Science, describing the organization of living beings on a global scale. They note that traditional taxonomy has been downsized in favor of molecular techniques, and as a result we are running out of knowledge with which to properly interpret the DNA data. They call for a new synthesis of traditional, molecular and ICT based approaches.

I strongly support their call for a new initiative. As the authors say, this is the first moment in history in which we have the tools to begin to understand biodiversity; and the astronomical rate of loss of biodiversity may make this the last opportunity to study biodiversity as it existed over the lifetime of our species.

President Bush has proposed a new program for exploration of space. I would have preferred a program of similar magnitude for the exploration of the biodiversity of earth. Such a program might help us to preserve that biodiversity. At the very least, such a program would yield enormous benefits in our understanding of life, and ultimately economic benefits.

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