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Naming Nature

A new book explores the scientific, and very human, drive to name and classify the organisms around us, but its conclusions about how best to do so miss the mark

Quentin Wheeler
Carol Kaesuk Yoon's linkurl:__Naming Nature__;http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/spring09/006197.htm tackles the oldest profession practiced by people with their clothes on. Taxonomy is the science of species: discovering, describing, classifying, and naming the millions of kinds of organisms with whom we share our planet. linkurl:Yoon;http://www.carolyoon.com/ laments the dwindling support and respect for taxonomy and associated losses that go far beyond science. But Yoon, a journalist and PhD biologist, also adds an interesting twist to her view of taxonomy. She examines the discipline -- from the ancient Greeks to the present -- through the prism of human __umwelt__, the ethologist's description of how organisms perceive the world around them.
Yoon draws upon data from disciplines as diverse as child development, anthropology, and neurology to support her arguments for the human __umwelt__. As a taxonomist, I was fascinated by her suggestion that __umwelt__ helps explain conflicts among different schools of taxonomic thought. When evolutionary taxonomists clung to...




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