What would NASA do? Mission-critical infrastructure for species exploration
natural history collections, Science Policy, species, Taxonomy
Three House of Lords reports and many essays and articles have lamented the loss of prestige and support for taxonomy in the UK, Europe and the United States, but little has been done to stop the haemorrhaging of expertise, continued neglect of natural history collections, and erosion of fundamental descriptive taxonomic scholarship. We have tolerated ignorance of earth's species so long that science policy makers seem to have forgotten that this need not be so. Advances in theory, technology, and practices have positioned taxonomy for a renaissance in species exploration. What is needed is to look at the role and significance of taxonomy through fresh eyes and see its true potential without the assumptions and biases of the past. The ‘big questions’ of taxonomy have changed little in more than two centuries, but our ability to answer them has dramatically improved. Looking at taxonomy, as if it were a NASA mission to some other habitable planet, points to both the importance of taxonomy and the folly of current neglect for its unique needs.