Taxonomy: retain scientific autonomy

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I see two important conceptual issues with the solutions proposed by Stephen Garnett and Les Christidis to minimize discrepancies between taxonomy and applied conservation efforts (Nature 546, 2527; 2017).

First, taxonomy is an independent biological discipline, not a service provider for conservation biologists or policymakers. Second, as with any scientific discipline, hypotheses are its cornerstone. Forcing taxonomists to adhere to a particular species concept might be interpreted as a form of academic censorship.

Even though the species as a taxon is thought to represent a real entity in nature, a species description is no different conceptually from any other scientific hypothesis (H. Wägele et al. Front. Zool. 8, 25; 2011). Aside from unjustified and detrimental taxonomic vandalism (as discussed by H. Kaiser et al. Herpetol. Rev. 44, 8–23; 2013), every taxonomist should retain the right to formulate their own hypotheses, provided that their rationale is clear and bolstered by unambiguous data.

It is then up to the taxonomic community to test and accept or refute these hypotheses. Instead of more governance concerning the 'why', I recommend putting more emphasis on the 'how' of presenting taxonomic hypotheses.

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  1. University of Bonn, Germany.

    • Markus Lambertz

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