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Australian Taxonomy? A joke and a frustration.

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Posted by Scott Thomson on February 26, 2002 at 03:54:07:

I guess for those who know me, you can call this a parting gesture. As I am retiring from herpetology at the end of this year. After that I will be taking no further part in it.

I came here today to look through what Richard Wells had written as I had been asked for my opinion of it. After reading through Richard's posts I think, here we go again.

Richard, considering your nature of collecting papers I find it inconceivable that you have managed to have no knowledge of all of the papers myself and Iverson and others have published on turtle taxonomy. Especially considering they have all been in International Peer Reviewed Journals. You could have saved yourself a bit of work by referring to them. This is not sour grapes by the way its just that you have presented information that is contrary to the views of a number of other papers. Without referring to the other view points. I mean we recognised "Macrochelodina" thats one of your names did you want us to ignore it?

However, I am not going to get into this now.

I want make a statement on why I believe Australia seems to have this situation come up so often.

Personally I think its the blame of all concerned, both the so called proffessionals and the amatures. (For those curious I consider myself an amature as I have never made any money as a herpetologist)

So what do the professionals do wrong: I think as a whole (there are some notible exceptions to this) they are an arrogant bunch, they believe only they have the skills required are super selective as to who may enter their circle and think everyone should just do what they say. They would prefer it if amatures did not exist. Unfortunately in Australia they are backed up by a beurocracy that will not allow amature involvement in herpetology. The various State Regularity bodies do not acknowledge, or have any way to do so, amatures as contributing scientists.

On many occasions they have been extremely slow in writing up their works (something I too am guilty of) and they have this belief that the newest and most trendy methods must be employed, which means genetics only, ignoring the basics such as taxonomy. Don't be fooled there are very, very few people in Australia who truly make a living as a reptile taxonomist, I am not one of them.

I think the most foolish papers I have seen published are those that present some wonderful dna or allozyme analysis making claims of half a dozen or more new species calling the things like sp. aff. or whatever. Here they stop, they can now present the beautiful trees and data on gene sequences. But do they name these species, no, they leave that for others to follow up on. Because they don't have a bloody clue how to do it themselves. In other words this is an armchair taxonomist. They are a hinderance to taxonomy.

Ok on to the amatures. What have they done wrong. They publish in low level journals without adequate peer review. Why, because they think their papers will be rejected by the International Journals. In reguards to Herpetology I am yet to see an Australian journal that has adequate review for a taxonomic paper, however, there are others who would disagree with me. The taxonomic papers should be appearing in Copeia, Herpetologica, Journal of Herpetology and other similar journals. Not Monitor or other such journals. Only with adequate peer review will the mistakes that Wells and Wellington, Cann, Hoser and now Wells have made be avoided.

They do not understand the ICZN rules properly, this is made clear when Wellington and Hoser published their views on it in Monitor. Also by many of the comments in this forum. Even those who are quoting from the text of the ICZN in here are not getting it right. I encourage anyone to have a go at taxonomy, but get the rules and make sure you understand them. Talk to the people who wrote them, thats what I did.

You cannot ignore literature, you should be aware of all the literature pertaining to the species in question. There is no excuse for this. You either refute or accept that literature. By refute I mean demonstrate that the paper was wrong, with evidence (not opinion) or accept their findings. Wether you agree with them or not.

You must present a differential diagnosis that means how do you distinguish the new species from that to which it is currently assigned.You need to use multible methods of diagnosis, At the very least morphological and morphometric. If you refer to other studies, cite the papers, if the paper has not been published then the study has not been done.

So in summary of this. I think the problems in Australian taxonomy are caused by the low priority it is given in this country, the very obvious poor raport between amature and proffessional herpetologists that is excasserbated by the agancies. Government funding driving Universities down the "trendy" genetics path and away from basic biology, a lack of discipline by the amatures in their approach to taxonomy, a lack of completeness by the proffessionals in their approach.

As I can see no way through this and am sick of being slave driven by people earning 80000 a year, who think I should work harder than they do for nothing, I wash my hands of it. After I finish off my next four papers, I am retiring.

My own view is that the ICZN should maintain a list of acceptable Journals, the journals apply for the right to publish taxonomic papers. Anything published anywhere else is not valid.

To all those who have supported me over the years thanks.

Cheers, Scott

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