Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Vanishing taxonomists

A recent article published in the Canadian newspaper "The Globe and Mail" titled "The case of the vanishing taxonomists" is another article that again is lamenting the demise of taxonomists and highlighting the fact that more are dying than are being trained. Those of us who follow these things will learn nothing particularly new, as it has been repeated many times before.

The morphological taxonomist, engrossed in a single group and identifying its members by visual inspection, is increasingly an emeritus professor or someone near retirement. Younger scientists are drawn to molecular taxonomy, where powerful new techniques in the study of DNA have revealed interspecies connections never before suspected.

It's a little frustrating reading these sorts of articles, particularly as a young scientist who does want to be a taxonomist and get paid for doing so. Although the paragraph above makes it sound as if there's noone wanting to follow in their footsteps, in my experience I have come across a number of postgraduate science students who would love to get into taxonomy. The problem is that there is very little money in it, and that jobs with significant components of taxonomic research are few and far between. The "taxonomic impediment" could easily be solved if there were dedicated funding rounds for the employment of early-career taxonomists.

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