October Meeting

Wed 10 October 2018 07:30pm

Leo Joseph - Who Doesn’t Like A Change of Scientific Names Every Now and Then? Science, taxonomy, nomenclature and Australian birds

Following the AGM there will be a single presentation by Leo Joseph of the Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO, entitled “Who Doesn’t Like A Change of Scientific Names Every Now and Then? Science, taxonomy, nomenclature and Australian birds.”

Apart from birds themselves, few things arouse passion and angst among those who study birds as names – especially scientific names and how, when and why they change. I often hear frustration that the scientific names for a group of animals as relatively well-known as birds are still changing. In response, I often quietly wonder when were they supposed to have stopped changing? 1915? 1983? 2017? When I became interested in birds? When you became interested in birds? Would we travel on long-haul jet flights or enter high-rise buildings if engineers and architects all declared, say in 1947, that we know all there is to know about the design of those things and there will be no more change? So, in this talk, I am going to take a light-hearted tour through some oddities of scientific names to do with Painted Honeyeaters (an example inspired by the COG chatline), Pied Currawongs (an example inspired by a recent article), Galahs (a favourite example of mine bringing a little history from the Baudin Expedition and the modern DNA sequencing world into the fray) and that perennial favourite, the Crested Shrike-tit (where do I start??). My aims will be to tease apart why scientific names still change and convey something of a deeper understanding about scientific names themselves. Ultimately, the real point of the talk will be to help listeners understand the links between (a) our science, which is how we try to understand the natural world, and that it in turn guides (b) how the taxonomy we use summarizes that understanding, which is meant to grow and change, and (c) how the rules of nomenclature guide us in how to construct and apply names in a consistent way. The talk will be a success if one can go home a little clearer about how our science, which itself changes and evolves, underpins the whole operation.

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