taxonomic vandalism
September 7, 2017 9:33 PM   Subscribe

A Few Bad Scientists Are Threatening to Topple Taxonomy "By the numbers, Hoser is a taxonomy maven. Between 2000 and 2012 alone, Hoser named three-quarters of all new genera and subgenera of snakes; overall, he’s named over 800 taxa, including dozens of snakes and lizards. But prominent taxonomists and other herpetologists—including several interviewed for this piece—say that those numbers are misleading. According to them, Hoser isn’t a prolific scientist at all. What he’s really mastered is a very specific kind of scientific "crime": taxonomic vandalism."
posted by dhruva (23 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds a lot like Wikipedia.
posted by scalefree at 9:45 PM on September 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised that a non-peer-reviewed system allowing for self-publishing has not completely crumbled yet. Wikipedia, after all, is amended all the time, but these taxonomy mavericks could melt the whole system unless stronger editing is brought in.

Also, I would have liked more examples of the offending names.
posted by Laotic at 12:13 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Google found some.

Also, Hoser's page speaks tons.
posted by Laotic at 12:19 AM on September 8, 2017 [16 favorites]


From the article:
The authors of the Nature editorial offer up a solution: move the code under a different purview. Specifically, they suggest that the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS)—the biology branch of the International Council for Sciences—should “take decisive leadership” and start a taxonomic commission. The commission, they propose, would establish hardline rules for delineating new species and take charge in reviewing taxonomic papers for compliance. This process, they say, would result in the first ever standardized global species lists.
Honestly, this sounds like the right solution, and long overdue. The physics community, for example, would never stand for some rogue idiot with a blog from 1993 arbitrarily re-naming one of the elements and then just thinking they all had to accept the alternate name because the nomenclature system wasn't standardized.
posted by darkstar at 12:26 AM on September 8, 2017 [15 favorites]


How about "Moseselfakharikukri"? For more, see here (Google Scholar link, note: most articles are in PDF and, unsurprisingly, from what seems like fishy sources).
Is this some kind of vendetta?
posted by hat_eater at 12:26 AM on September 8, 2017


I know not every discussion has to devolve into Trumpism, but the idea that some dude is making up taxonomic categorizations to aggrandize himself (and his wife, and his dogs) while ignoring every scientific norm and standard certainly reminds me of the post-fact, post-dignity, post-decency trough into which the US government has recently barreled.

BUT, the most surprising thing was the cladogram—The elephant and the elephant shrew are actually closely related?? Unglaublich!
posted by ejs at 12:37 AM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


I liked this bit:

"it’s a pile of publications that have no scientific merit.” (In response to questions about the legitimacy of his journal, Hawkeswood delivered a string of expletives directed towards his critics, and contended that Calodema has “heaps of merit.”)"
posted by lollusc at 12:40 AM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


Heaps of something anyway.
posted by scalefree at 1:02 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, Hoser's page speaks tons.

Whoa, that Hoser is a piece of WORK. You really have to click on that link.

Snakebusters are also the only vet surgeon certified and guaranteed safe deadly snake shows in the world, with surgically devenomized snakes, proven so by testing (on people) over the last ten years! Yes the deadly snakes he's holding in the photo to the right have bitten him many times and he remains alive to tell the story. It's alleged that the snake man tastes of cucumbers and lettuces!

"Devenomizing" snakes for handling by the public seems irresponsible for a number of reasons that leap prominently to mind.

Also....what
posted by louche mustachio at 1:37 AM on September 8, 2017 [10 favorites]


"The Snakeman" sounds like the nickname of some guy with flaming dice on his shirt.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:08 AM on September 8, 2017 [14 favorites]


Oh my god, his email address is viper007
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:11 AM on September 8, 2017 [9 favorites]


What a hoser.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:28 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Understood this as "taxidermy" for a perturbing while
posted by runincircles at 4:03 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Raymond Hoser®, Snakebusters®, Snakebuster®, Snake man®, snakeman®, reptile parties®, reptile party®, hands on reptiles®, hold the animals®, handle the animals®, Australia's best reptiles® and variants are all registered trademarks in Australia and elsewhere

I'm surprised he got some of these before the Australian porn industry did.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:04 AM on September 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


If the public internet has taught us one thing, it's this: When designing a system that depends on social conventions to be useful and remain current, it will eventually be turned against you if it is not reinforced against sociopathy.
posted by ardgedee at 4:11 AM on September 8, 2017 [25 favorites]


It sounds like it would be pretty simple to just adjust the rule so as to disallow self-publishing. Legitimate scientists shouldn't have a problem with having to go through peer review, and it would put a stop to this Hoser. Some saint would then have to go through his "work" and publish counter-papers discrediting his species descriptions, but it doesn't sound like that would be hard, just tedious.

Taxonomy is a bit of a mess though. So much energy expended on splitting hairs according to this school of thought or that one, when we all know full well that the boundaries between species can get awfully fuzzy and that the concept of a "species" is much more of a mental model for categorizing things than a phenomenon that actually exists in nature. No two scientists agree perfectly on where to draw those lines, but they sure do get invested in their own delineations. Too much personal pride involved, too much trying not to step on other researchers' toes, or deliberately stepping on them and then daring the offended person to do anything about it. Ugh.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:54 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


After the stamp collectors at the journal of Cladistics "forget about your newfangled evolutionary tree construction using statistical evidence from DNA sequencing" episode, nothing surprises me.
posted by kersplunk at 6:47 AM on September 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: not reinforced against sociopathy.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:06 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


It sounds like it would be pretty simple to just adjust the rule so as to disallow self-publishing.

Except nobody wants to publish or review the taxonomic work and there are also severe shortages of experts in the minutia of taxonomic work.

As far as I can tell there are about 3 botanists working in academia/conservatories my specific area of interest. All roughly retirement age. They each represent a different taxonomic camp - Lumpers, Splitters and Compromisers.

They would probably never accept the positions of their peers for publication.

Also there is no authority willing to act as the depository for the names per the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants.

TLDR - It isn't simple. There are too many things in the world and not enough people who care and not enough money to let them care.
posted by srboisvert at 11:03 AM on September 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


From Hoser's page: "He's written nine major books on reptiles, wildlife, police corruption, wildlife crime and government corruption." Made me laugh and I needed a good laugh.
posted by mareli at 5:29 PM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


As far as I can tell there are about 3 botanists working in academia/conservatories my specific area of interest. All roughly retirement age. They each represent a different taxonomic camp - Lumpers, Splitters and Compromisers.

So don't leave us hanging—which one is you?
posted by traveler_ at 6:02 PM on September 8, 2017


For those of you interested in taxonomic integrity who want to help, I invite you to edit Wikispecies.
posted by koavf at 6:32 PM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell there are about 3 botanists working in academia/conservatories my specific area of interest. All roughly retirement age. They each represent a different taxonomic camp - Lumpers, Splitters and Compromisers.

So don't leave us hanging—which one is you?


Hobbyist.

Because my interest is pragmatic - I just want a label to communicate - I don't really consider myself part of the debate. I don't have a deep interest in the phylogeny and I prefer cultivars to species plants. So I guess if forced I would be a compromiser.

I do know that name churn kind of annoys me.
posted by srboisvert at 7:53 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


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