I was thinking about taxonomic treatments of specific groups of organisms; in some cases a 'treatment' is essentially a rehash and synthesis of what has been published previously (but just for a specific subregion, etc). While focusing on the mechanistic details of how my colleagues and I put together treatments (not through rehashing), I thought of the process by which sewage is treated. So I did a Google image search for "taxonomic treatment," and basically got a bunch of photos of journal pages/covers, some phylogenetic trees, and some photos of organisms. I think that's pretty much how most people see biological taxonomy, which explains a lot about why taxonomy is often seen as dull and sometimes (even worse) unscientific. But then I did a Google image search for "wastewater treatment" and I was amazed to see that the images there generally matched my concept of how to do a taxonomic treatment much better than what I saw in the previous search! What I saw were mainly flowcharts... they showed processes like screening, pre-treatment, cleaning, clarification, digestion, storage, disposal... and the processes all flowed into one another and ended up making products for public consumption! Yes! This is it! This is how we really need to be doing taxonomy! Instead of perpetuating the problems that exist, take them head on... get the junk out of the way, and make something that people can use. Many researchers seem to be of the mind that if it's mostly right, it's good enough; but as any wastewater treatment plant manager will tell you, even if it's only 10-20% sewage, it's not fit for public consumption. Let us view our taxonomy in the same manner!
Lichenologist James Lendemer is famously quoted as saying "I think of myself as a bounty hunter." Perhaps I should think of myself as a manager of a wastewater treatment plant. Maybe that's not as glorious, but it certainly is important. So much work remains to be done before we get close to having a reasonable set of names for the organisms on the Earth. As long as humans are involved, our nomenclatural system will be imperfect and will require constant cleaning, management, and enforcement of standards... and there I will stand, ready to take on the nastiest and dirtiest of the problems!
P.S. Some recent big news in the NYC area has been the big fire at a wastewater treatment plant that sent sewage spewing into the Hudson River. Thought exercise for taxonomists: Can you think of any events like this one (speaking metaphorically) that affected your particular group of organisms?