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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

another skill shortage « Previous | |Next »
November 12, 2007

The skills shortage is one of those things we've accepted without thinking about it too much. We talk about shortages of health professionals, but they're in one of those areas where the economic and social converge to create a nice sense of public outrage in time for an election. However a society cannot thrive on politically convenient shortages alone.

According to Ashley Hay in The Monthly [subscription only] we're running out of taxonomists.

It's quite sensible to run out of taxonomists in a practical reconciliation kind of way. If you're planning to plunder the landscape the last thing you want is a bunch of extremist taxonomists discovering new and fascinating things living in it. Wentworth would be even more berzerk.

Hay quotes the director of the Australian Biological Resources Study, Cameron Slatyer:

Australia's flora and fauna are more poorly understood than some parts of the Amazon...Almost half the continent has never even been visited by scientists, and in some places the last scientist went through in the 1890s.

Banks and Solander would be mortified.

Some of the best stories of our early white history revolve around the discovery of new species. Wars broke out among European naturalists over the classification of our flora. The playtpus was thought to be a fake assembled from bits of other animals. We've built industries out of terrifying other people with tales of our reptiles, insects and spiders. Some of our most successful movies have relied on the frightening reputation of our natural environment.

Yet amidst all the kerfuffle over loving and honouring our glorious heritage, funding for understanding this particular bit of it has fallen to the point where taxonomists are themselves a threatened species. Where's the patriotism in that? What would Steve Irwin say?

Slatyer says:

Walk into any patch of our bushland and two-thirds of the organisms you see will not have been formally recognised by science.

Most of us have been bitten by things that don't even have names.

Taxonomists have formed a lobby group and they could do worse than try to recruit Bindi Irwin. They're figuring out how to use technology to encourage amateur contributions to the cause. Imagine - you could have a previously unknown fungus named after you. Maybe not as glamorous as a star, but with any luck it could turn out to shoot toxic barbs or something similarly typical of our Australian wildlife.

| Posted by Lyn at 10:04 AM | | Comments (2)
Comments

Comments

"two thirds of the organisms... have not been formally recognised"
Yes, more taxidermists, for sure. If you think of all the animals and other strange creepy-crawly things we DO know about, even that lot would require an army of people to stuff them if we wanted good museums.

Value added, get it!

happy is the country that can afford to worry about this.

happy, but heading for disaster.