scotartt on Sat, 14 Sep 2002 14:50:10 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> European scientist, Dariusz Szlachetko, stuck in 18th Century

The following is an article from this Saturday's edition of the Sydney
Morning Herald. I find it incredulous in this day and age that there
exists a European botanist still operating on methods left over from the
18th century. It is The male gaze of the all seeing-eye, the light that
shines the illumination of the rational mind into the dark foreboding
corners of undiscovered nature, of the Scientific European with the
Enlightenment intellect organising and naming the new world as if at a
meeting of the Royal Society circa 1820. Incredulous thing, that Platypus,
Sir Humfrey, what? In other words, it's outrageous that the scientific
community allows such unscientific practices to still exist.

After flexing his botanical muscles and hasty unscientific conclusions
(made from long-dead-and-dried specimens, mind, and without any knowledge
of the plant's actual situation in real living nature), Szlachetko is now
moving on the altogether softer and even richer target of Papua New Guinea
and the Pacific. Imagine the outcry in Europe if Australian or New Guinean
scientists decided to re-classify the european black bear as some sort of
inferior wombat based on the evidence of a stuffed specimen uncovered from
a century of storage in the basement of the Australian Museum, Sydney.

To generalise a little, it seems to me, speaking as a European by descent
only and not by political outlook or national cultural expression, that
Europeans are very good at protecting their own. After all, witness the
naming of wines, cheeses, and other agricultural produce that certain
European interest groups have managed to post-fact assert their
geographical trademarking rights over.  However in these sorts of
conflicts it appears that a bit of quid pro quo is well out of the
question; once I had the distinct pleasure of drinking a French "Pilsener"
beer and pondering the folly of a world that would force me to drink
"Sparkling Chardonnay" if such a thing is made in the district of Pils,
Czech Republic.

To retreat from the bozo-nationalism of farm produce naming rights, and
back to the territory of biological scientific thought, I will quote
another example of insidious cultural values masquerading as scientific
orthodoxy. To me this illustrates Szlachetko's folly, as it is already
familiar to me in my hobby as an amateur ornithologist (i.e. a 'Birder').

Right up until recent times (indeed, into the 1980s) it was commonly
supposed by Experts that birds had evolved in what is now regarded as the
continents of the northern hemisphere. There was no particularly good
scientific basis for this fact, other than that the Northern Hemisphere's
birds species were all very well described many years ago. There were two
reasons for the research to be regarded as comprehensive; one of course
being that the philosophical discipline of 'science' and its associated
obsession with taxonomy reached its peak in Europe. The other reason is
one which should have been more scientifically revealing to those
involved; that the northern continents have a positive impoverishment of
bird species.

Really the supposition was that northern birds of the Palaeartic and
Nearctic were of a superior kind to all these new world birds
(Neotropical, Australian and Ethiopian species), despite their bewildering
variety. Therefore the bird must have evolved in Europe (cue faint echo of
'everything good comes from Europe'). Europeans found the sweet song of
the robin infinitely preferable to the whistling hooting and hollering of
the currawong, the melliflous flute tones of the Australian Magpie, the
harsh cackling of wattlebirds or the raucous screeching of the cockatoo.
Ipso Facto, the robin is a vastly superior creature. Anyway, suffice it to
be said that this gentle nonsense was overturned by DNA and other
research. Although this work didn't propose to change the names given to
the various species, it did change the sequence of the species. This
highlights to me the folly of re-naming things after long-dead European
scientists purely on the evidence of the morphology of dried specimens.

scot mcphee.


Botanical 'terrorists' strip Australia of naming rights to local orchids

By Nick Galvin
September 14 2002

A Polish scientist who has allegedly never set foot in Australia has
sparked uproar in the normally staid world of orchids by renaming dozens
of Australian plants, gazumping local botanists who have spent years on
their own research.

Dariusz Szlachetko and his colleagues of Gdansk University's Department of
Plant Taxonomy and Nature Conservation have been branded botanical
"terrorists"  by Australian researcher David Jones, who has studied
Australian orchids for 35 years.

"What they do is legal but it is not ethical," says Dr Jones, from the
Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research in Canberra.

Professor Szlachetko's work - which local experts claim is incorrect on
many points - is based solely on preserved specimens found in European

"He just gets specimens from the herbaria, makes a decision and then
writes it up," Dr Jones says. "I would never think of working on another
country's orchids unless I went there and had a look at them. It's crazy."

At the heart of the controversy is Professor Szlachetko's decision to
rename some of the Pterostylis or "Greenhood" group of orchids, based on
visual differences he claims to have detected, jumping in ahead of ongoing
Australian research using sophisticated DNA techniques to piece together
the botanical puzzle.

However, under the International Code of Biological Nomenclature, it's a
case of first in best dressed, with the first researcher to publish the
new names in recognised journals credited with the work.

Australian orchid authority and botanical illustrator, John Riley, says
the foreign scientists are "mucking around" in areas they don't

"They're armchair botanists and they've got nothing better to do because
everything in Europe has already been named," he says. "The worst part
about it is that it makes things very, very confusing here."

Already, the efforts of Professor Szlachetko have forced Dr Jones and
colleague Mark Clements to bring forward the publication of their own
work, which in turn has made the Polish researchers redouble their
efforts, sparking an international orchid-naming race.

"These people are running roughshod," says Dr Clements. "They're
disregarding other people's work and just renaming things as they see fit.
It doesn't matter if someone else has been working on this group, they are
just taking specimens and saying, 'Oh, yes, this is different', renaming
it and disregarding the other research."

Professor Szlachetko has also turned his attentions to the flora of Papua
New Guinea and New Caledonia.

"New Guineans have ended up with a whole lot of new species ... and new
genera described after long-dead Polish botanists with unpronounceable
names," Dr Clements says.

The Herald contacted Professor Szlachetko to give him the opportunity to
discuss his work, but he failed to respond.

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