Phone

What is Taxonomy?

Taxonomy, in a broad sense the science of classification, but more strictly the classification of living and extinct organisms—i.e., biological classification. The term is derived from the Greek taxis (“arrangement”) and nomos (“law”). Taxonomy is, therefore, the methodology and principles of systematic botany and zoology and sets up arrangements of the kinds of plants and animals in hierarchies of superior and subordinate groups. For your enterprise, it means classifying a single record to multiple taxonomies, otherwise known as Ontologies. Oxcyon calls this MphC, (Multi Polyhierarchical Classification), which can easily be imported and used to classify all of your information

Popularly, classifications of living organisms arise according to need and are often superficial. Anglo-Saxon terms such as worm and fish have been used to refer, respectively, to any creeping thing—snake, earthworm, intestinal parasite, or dragon—and to any swimming or aquatic thing. Although the term fish is common to the names shellfish, crayfish, and starfish, there are more anatomical differences between a shellfish and a starfish than there are between a bony fish and a man. Vernacular names vary widely. The American robin (Turdus migratorius), for example, is not the English robin (Erithacus rubecula), and the mountain ash (Sorbus) has only a superficial resemblance to a true ash.

Biologists, however, have attempted to view all living organisms with equal thoroughness and thus have devised a formal classification. A formal classification provides the basis for a relatively uniform and internationally understood nomenclature, thereby simplifying cross-referencing and retrieval of information. The usage of the terms taxonomy and systematics with regard to biological classification varies greatly. American evolutionist Ernst Mayr has stated that “taxonomy is the theory and practice of classifying organisms” and “systematics is the science of the diversity of organisms”; the latter in such a sense, therefore, has considerable interrelations with evolution, ecology, genetics, behaviour, and comparative physiology that taxonomy need not have.

Historical Background
People who live close to nature usually have an excellent working knowledge of the elements of the local fauna and flora important to them and also often recognize many of the larger groups of living things (e.g., fishes, birds, and mammals). Their knowledge, however, is according to need, and such people generalize only rarely.

From the Greeks to the Renaissance
The first great generalizer in classification was Aristotle, who virtually invented the science of logic, of which for 2,000 years classification was a part. Greeks had constant contact with the sea and marine life, and Aristotle seems to have studied it intensively during his stay on the island of Lesbos. In his writings, he described a large number of natural groups, and, although he ranked them from simple to complex, his order was not an evolutionary one. He was far ahead of his time, however, in separating invertebrate animals into different groups and was aware that whales, dolphins, and porpoises had mammalian characters and were not fish. Lacking the microscope, he could not, of course, deal with the minute forms of life.

The Aristotelian method dominated classification until the 19th century. His scheme was, in effect, that the classification of a living thing by its nature—i.e., what it really is, as against superficial resemblances—requires the examination of many specimens, the discarding of variable characters (since they must be accidental, not essential), and the establishment of constant characters. These can then be used to develop a definition that states the essence of the living thing—what makes it what it is and thus cannot be altered; the essence is, of course, immutable. The model for this procedure is to be seen in mathematics, especially geometry, which fascinated the Greeks. Mathematics seemed to them the type and exemplar of perfect knowledge, since its deductions from axioms were certain and its definitions perfect, irrespective of whether a perfect geometrical figure could ever be drawn. But the Aristotelian procedure applied to living things is not by deduction from stated and known axioms; rather, it is by induction from observed examples and thus does not lead to the immutable essence but to a lexical definition. Although it provided for centuries a procedure for attempting to define living things by careful analysis, it neglected the variation of living things. It is of interest that the few people who understood Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in the mid-19th century were empiricists who did not believe in an essence of each form.

Given that assigning detailed taxonomy, ontology or MphC can be daunting, Centralpoint also offers tools in which to automate your metadata classification. These rules, managed within Centralpoint's Data Cleaner tools, allow any record manually or automatically ingested to inherit the appropriate taxonomies based on the contents of each record submitted; without any manual classification whatsoever!