Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World

From The New York Times:

Name One spring when I was a graduate student, I would go each Monday down into the bowels of the entomology building. There I would meet Prof. Jack Franclemont, an elderly gentleman always with little dog in tow, to be tutored in the ordering and naming of life — the science of taxonomy.

Professor Franclemont, a famed moth specialist, was perfectly old school, wearing coat and tie to give the day’s lecture even though I was the only member of the audience. Quaintly distracted, he never quite got my name right, sometimes calling me Miss Loon or Miss Voon. After the talk, I would identify moths using a guide written in 1923, in silence or listening to stories of his dog’s latest antics. I enjoyed the meditative pleasure of those hours, despite the fact that as the lone (and not terribly proficient) student of an aging teacher, I could not help feeling that taxonomy might be dying, which, in fact, it is.

Despite the field’s now blatant modernity, with practitioners using DNA sequences, sophisticated evolutionary theory and supercomputers to order and name all of life, jobs for taxonomists continue to be in steady decline. The natural history collections crucial to the work are closeted or tossed.

More here.