Monday, August 11, 2014

Bad systematics

On the recent field trip, I saw the weird pesticide below in the station:

As most readers will know, this is wrong in two distinct ways: First, flies are insects, so this is a bottle of insect and insect killer. Second, spiders are NOT insects. So why not rename the pesticide into "spider & insect killer"?

The little insect icons are pretty weird too. Note how all of them are merely sitting there - except the flea, which is depicted as dead with cracked eggs above it. I imagine the latter are supposed to indicate that the eggs are also killed, not only the imagines, and then the designers probably thought that drawing a sitting flea in the same box would somehow imply that the imagines are not killed.

Anyway, this "fly & insect" business reminds me of an anecdote from the time of my postgraduate studies. The head of our department, a liverwort specialist, wanted to hire a student to work on a database. From what I was told his approach to job interviews was as follows: He showed each candidate the database website which, at that moment, he deliberately given the title "bryophytes and liverworts". Apparently most candidates said merely that it looked nice. He hired the only one who immediately remarked that the title didn't make sense because one of those is a subgroup of the other.

Also on the field trip, one student collected a Lomandra. When I helped her with the identification of the species, I quickly despaired of the key we were using. Don't want to mention names here, but the questions were often unhelpful; the worst of them was probably this one:

3  Male inflorescence usually unbranched; female inflorescence unbranched or rarely branched.
3* Male inflorescence branched; female inflorescence branched or unbranched.

So basically, unless you have an unbranched male inflorescence on your specimen (and she didn't) the couplet is useless; if it is branched, you have to try both ways, and the text about the female inflorescences is entirely uninformative. When the taxonomist wrote that, didn't they realise what they were doing?


  1. Yep. There's also a sign on the doors at Brisbane airport "no animals or birds allowed in terminal" which makes me wince each time I see it.
    From what I recall of Mike and Lyn's work Lomandra is pretty messy, tho not sure how those poorly circumscribed species hold up under molecular data. You're not volunteering to write a new key? ;)