We need the Taxonomy Hulk

The Taxonomy Hulk burst onto twitter yesterday. We need superheroes like Taxonomy Hulk. As his/her alter ego, s/he surfs the internet, working away as a taxonomist, doing things that taxonomists do – describing species, inferring their evolutionary relationships, discovering their natural history. However, if s/he spots a taxonomic mistake on a website, news story, scientific article, or blog – LOOK OUT. The Hulk goes through an impressive metamophosis. S/he gets mad and gets even. If you make a taxonomic mistake, you will be shamed. Message: DON’T MAKE A #TAXONOMYFAIL. Taxonomy Hulk points out misidentifications in images (e.g., see this website with a Harvestmen instead of a spider.. oops [although a common mistake]).

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Taxonomy Hulk reminds us to use Latin names, not common names.

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Taxonomy Hulk is also funny. We need humour – every day.

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On a slightly more serious note: correct taxonomy is critically important. Other posts (e.g., see here or here) have pointed out taxonomic failures – and I especially like Bug Girl’s Flickr set!. One letter difference in Miridae (a family of plant bugs) gets you to Muridae (rodents and their relatives) – yeah those two are just a bit different. As an ecologist (although one with envy of taxonomists, and one in awe of the work taxonomists do!), I admit that I am perhaps not as careful as I should be when it comes to checking nomenclature, or ensuring spelling is always correct. I try – but given that my training is not in taxonomy, I surely make mistakes. I fear that some ecologists appreciate the importance of sound taxonomy even less than I do, and we need a watchdog. Reminders about correct taxonomy are a good idea. Taxonomy Hulk reminds us that we must be clear in what we are saying, whether it be in science journalism, writing a blog post, or working on a scientific paper.

Taxonomy Hulk is a concept not a person and this is a good thing: the humour and fun and ‘alter ego’ perspective is non-threatening, and allows taxonomic issues to be brought into the open easily and effectively. We can fix our mistakes, smile about it, and move forward.

Thank you Taxonomy Hulk. (and yes, you should follow Taxonomy Hulk on twitter)

I finish by stating that Taxonomy Hulk’s ‘regular’ persona (the Bruce Banner) is known to some of us (and s/he’s an incredibly competent taxonomist!, and a super-nice person).

But I’ll keep it quiet – it’s better that way.


8 thoughts on “We need the Taxonomy Hulk

  1. I may get smashed for this . . .

    I agree that taxonomy needs a superhero. But I wonder if we’d make more progress with Professor X (might as well stick with the Marvel universe). In other words – is the cause of taxonomy better served by promoting the importance of good, clear, careful taxonomy, or by seeking out and smashing mistakes IN CAPITALS? That may come across as a Humorless Old Fart argument, but I think we can transmit the message that good taxonomy matters by taking the Professor’s “it’s good to be good” approach in addition to the Hulk’s “IS BAD BE BAD!!!” approach.

    An example – incorrect use of italics for scientific names (genus yes! species yes! family NO!) makes me go a bit green, but how many non-taxonomists actually LEARN that rule to begin with? A quick tutorial with Professor X might do more good than being smashed for a Newbie Font Fail.

  2. Seriously, doesn’t everybody know that it is their responsibility to carefully and gently educate someone for being too lazy to understand what they are writing? How dare anyone use humor when they should be spending their time to cultivate knowledge among those who can’t even be bothered to google. Frankly, I’m dismayed.

  3. Thanks for the comments- my response: different strokes for different folks! There are many ways to cultivate knowledge, came careful and gentle, and some IN CAPITALS. Some with the use of humour, some that are humourless.

    If Taxonomy Hulk can help “the cause” with some fun reminders – sounds like a good idea to me.

    Terry – Professor X (and his/her tutorial) is a fine idea, also. I’m sure Hulk wouldn’t mind – There’s room for both.

  4. Just to make sure everyone is in the same page, “X Hulk” is a recurring twitter joke… There’s Feminist Hulk, Film Crit Hulk, Tea Party Hulk, and even Grammar Hulk (#wat). for the science-y folks, there’s Open Access Hulk, Data Curator Hulk, Thesis Hulk, Metrics Hulk and Oxytocin Hulk that their Taxonomist brother has joined. No need for inadvertent smashing 🙂

  5. Yes, Raphael – the twitter hulks needed their taxonomy partner to join in the fun… a twitter joke, but with an undercurrent that is relevant and important re: larger topic of correct taxonomy.

    Terry – I ‘sensed’ that Prof X was fully engaged with this topic… (my spidey senses perhaps)

  6. Pingback: Expiscor (19 April 2013) | Arthropod Ecology

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