Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mermaid's Tale Blog

I haven't been too active with reading or writing blogs lately - I've been traveling and trying to get some (publishable) analyses and writing done. But I just stumbled upon a blog I hadn't seen before by Ken Weiss and Anne Buchanan. Ken Weiss is an anthropologist at Penn State. He writes a lot about evolutionary concepts (some call it theory, but the math theorists don't like that). He had a published column for a while that I was a fan of - I even assign a few of them for my evolution class.

I am a fan because Professor Weiss is an ardent pluralist, comfortable with some ambiguity, and the fact that "dichotomies" are spectra, etc. This is a general philosophy I share, and use to make sense of the world and others' arguments.

So, I look forward to reading their blog, called the Mermaid's Tale (I'm not sure I'm fond of pun-ambiguity, but I guess it works in this case). It looks prolific, I don't think I'll be able to keep up.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The art of naming and recognizing species

There is an article in the New York Times about the decline in number of taxonomists. More generally, the article is about people's increasing disconnect from nature, and especially from recognizing different living things around them. I've seen this first hand and have been surprised, for example, that many of the students in my invert zoology class grew up in CA, but never visited a tidepool before the class. These are people with passion enough for biology to declare it as a major.

As for alpha taxonomy, I've also witnessed the decline in professional prestige for writing species descriptions (see post here). Just last month, two undergraduate students and I discovered a new species of Euphilomedes (ostracod crustacean) on our collecting trip to Panama (the trip is a reason why no posts here for a while). We are thinking of describing it officially. But is this good training for me to teach them how to do this? Will the skills be at all useful in their future?

We were also joking about auctioning naming rights on e-bay. Some taxonomists are against this, but I am all for it.

Yet naming new species CAN actually lead to significant scientific cache. Witness several new species of annelid worms, described in Science. They shoot out green bioluminescent bombs, presumably to distract predators (not unlike the function of bioluminescence in Vargula hilgendorfii).