Diggitt McLaughlin on dying biological arts

"It's beyond astounding – I just don’t have a word for it – to consider the loss of thousands of years of accumulated knowledge and the accompanying way of thinking."

- Diggitt McLaughlin, writing in The Scientist

Apparently classical biological disciplines such as taxonomy, zoology, entomology and botany are a dying art, being replaced by an obsession with all things molecular. In response to an article written by Bob Grant entitled "A Fading Field", McLaughlin and another correspondent complain that a lot of core knowledge is being lost. The other correspondent, Arunachalam Subbiah, said: "Today you can see thousands of life scientists who cannot identify many plants, insects and animals and yet can claim to be top-ranking life scientists."

But it is a difficult problem. As the complex molecular details of the life sciences become increasingly revealed, and the techniques to study them expand, biologists find themselves with more and more that they need to know. Can one really be an effective molecular biologist and also be an expert in plant systematics? But if universities are forced to shut down departments in classical biology, knowledge may very well be lost. What is the solution?

You can read the correspondence here, and the precipitating article with a subscription to The Scientist.