Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Alex's New and Hot

"What's in a Name? The Future of Life"
by Kristen Philipkoski

I found this article the other day, it's somewhat related to Becca's story earlier this week what with it being Linnaeus's 300th birthday and all. This article goes into a little bit of detail about the man and his work, but otherwise, most of the article is actually a critique of the current Linnaeian system of classification. That is, it looks at the history of binomial nomenclature and basically says that it's a horrible system. A scathing critique, if you will.

The problem is, the naming scheme is not optimal. For the most part, the naming is very ad hoc and often times species are often named after really random things like the name of the discoverer. There's not a particularly elegant way of organizing everything. In addition, the currently classification system does not take into account a lot of the current advances in the evolution of life and molecular genetics.

The point is, many people think that the current system is really outdated, here is a quote:

"The binomial system for naming species is a necessary evil," says David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Arizona who says he'd prefer a more precise nomenclature, such as registration numbers for all species. "No one would suggest such an awkward system today, but it is so entrenched that it is virtually impossible to change."

So people want to replace it with something that's perhaps more streamlined and makes more logical sense, but I guess the problem is that there's too much precedent. The Linnaean system has been around for so long that a lot of people think that it's going to be really hard to replace this system, so we might be stuck with what we have for a while now.

This is going to be a horrible analogy, but it's like Galileo/Copernicus vs. Aristotle almost. Aristotle had so much sway and power and he had tradition on his side that even when something else came along later that was better, people didn't really care and it was hard to get that new thing stuck. Eventually though, the better thing did stick around. Same with the recent demotion of Pluto as a planet. In any case, I'd be interested to see what people do with binomial nomenclature in the future.

Book review to come later.

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