Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Check Out My New Team-Blog, Accumulating Glitches!

I have some exciting news to share: Today is the launch day for Accumulating Glitches, a blog I am co-authoring with Sedeer el-Showk! Accumulating Glitches is one of many new science blogs launching this week at Scitable (by Nature Education), and I encourage you to check them out. (A summary of them can be found here).

In celebration of today's launch, I am sharing part of Sedeer's debut post, Do Species Really Exist?

Although these two may look like different species,
science says they are both Eclectus parrots...
But how do we determine which animals are the
same species and which are different species?
Photo by Doug Janson at Wikimedia Commons.
Faced with the rich diversity of living beings around us, humans have proven unable to resist the temptation to try to organize and categorize them. We have a natural tendency to classify things, a habit that's deeply rooted in our cognition and use of language. Our brain excels at recognizing patterns (and thus finding meaning where it doesn't exist), an ability that allows us to interact with the world using names — like "chair" — that we might be hard-pressed to properly explain. In fact, it's surprisingly difficult to define even a seemingly straightforward word like "chair" in a way that would let us recognize everything that should be included (from office chairs and recliners to stools and wheelchairs) but nothing that shouldn't (like tables, tree stumps, or other things we might decide to sit on).

Despite these difficulties, we've been classifying organisms throughout the history of human thought, from Aristotle's division between plants and animals to modern scientific nomenclature. The modern classification system is based on grouping organisms into units called 'species'; species, in turn, group together into a larger units called genus, family, order, and so on through the nested hierarchy of life. What make a species, though? Why should a particular group of organisms be thought of as a unit and given a distinct name? How do we decide which organisms make up a species?

To ponder these questions, read the rest of Sedeer's article!

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