In Science Daily, a report that a species of skate has been fished to near extinction because of a taxonomic error in the 1920s. Two species of skate were classified into a single species by an influential biologist R.S. Clark in 1926. This act effectively made it impossible to “see” both species as distinct, and so the over-fishing of one of them was simply not tracked. Taxonomies are designed to foreground salient things, and background un-salient things. If you make a mistake, you cannot manage or safeguard the things you render invisible. This error is a good example of why taxonomies in management are so important – it’s not simply a matter of rendering lots of documents searchable. It’s also about mapping the world of work to render it manageable. Next time I get an invite to put together a taxonomy by reviewing a pile of documents over a couple of weeks, I’ll think of the humble – and almost extinct – flapper skate D. intermedia.
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