Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Classification and Technology

Classification is the basis of science. There are two kinds of classification errors, classifying dissimilar things in the same category and classifying similar things in different categories. Think about mosquitoes. They are small and hard to see. Modern use of DNA analysis has demonstrated that what had been previously classed as single species by visual inspection were actually multiple, non-interbreeding species. What does this have to do with technology? Consider the possibility that only one of several sibling species is actually an important vector of malaria. What is the possibility that one would test methods for the control of the species, find that the methods reduce the population of a sibling species but fail to reduce the infection rate of the disease.

Cancer seems to be diagnosed largely on the basis of the location of a tumor, but different tumors in the same organ may be biologically and biochemically distinct. Medical researchers are now finding treatments that are very effective against sub-categories of cancers previously not distinguished one from another.

Of course, we sometimes find that the same treatment will succeed against a variety of diseases. This is the very meaning of "broad band" antibiotics -- they work against a variety of bacterial agents.

Thus in medical and public health technology it is important to have good classifications as to what remedy to apply to what class of situations. I would suggest that classifications are part of technological knowledge in these circumstances. The same would apply for soil classifications as a basis for soil amendments in agriculture, pest and disease classifications in veterinary medicine and treatment of crop diseases, and other areas.

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