B.U.N.K. Volume 2, Number 1 (1984)

Deviants in Systematics

Robert S. Anderson
Department of Entomology
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta

I am sure that at some time in the not too distant past all of us have run into individuals whose behaviour or structure differs significantly from that which we find desirable. No, I don't mean those colleagues, some of whose looks or actions often remind us of some other type of viviparous quadruped from which we claim descent; I mean those all-too-numerous specimens which we all-too-frequently encounter in our work and through good conscience should deal with in some scientific or even pseudo-scientific manner. Yes, those aberrant monstrosoties which force us to reconsider our elegant and eloquent discourses into the non-descriptive realm of systematics and face the harsh reality and complexity of data. How one deals with such obstructions to the completion of papers and the undertaking of more field work is a potentially highly controversial topic. Those with a weak conscience may choose simply to dispose of the problematical beast in the proverbial circular file, or play hide and seek with it in deep shag carpeting. Certainly more rigourously scientific procedures are available. After all, we chose to pursue a scientific career as part of our own individual contribution to increasing knowledge of the human race and not just to prolong adolescence for a few more years. We cannot therefore simply avoid at least an attempt at dealing with what appears to be an increasingly common and consistent natural pattern. Such specimens, we all too well know, always: (1) are unique or else few in number; (2) are lacking parts or having parts obscured that are integral to their understanding; (3) are of the sex upon which our conclusions or classifications are not based; (4) turn up after publication of the research, or even, heaven forbid, in the final stages of manuscript preparation or after submission of the final draft; (5) are from areas which one thinks are biologically uninteresting and to which one really doesn't want to travel.

I propose the name "stereotype" for these individuals because they always demonstrate a predictable and repeated pattern of undesirable attributes. Type depository (other than the circular file, etc.) for such material is important and should be selected on the basis of: (1) size of collection (in larger collections specimens are more likely to get lost or be forgotten); (2)the taxonomic expertise and interests of the curator(s) (specialist curators are more likely to loose a specimen of a group they are not interesting in or are not working on); (3) proximity to sources of natural disasters; (4) proximity to missile silos; (5) political instability of area. If deposited with conscious regard for the above guidelines, specimens are unlikely to be around long enough to pester some worker who may chose to re-examine the group at some time in the future.

Copyright © 1984, 1996, David R. Maddison, John H. Acorn, and Robert S. Anderson.