Lumpers and Splitters: Darwin, Hooker, and the Search for Order

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Science  11 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5959, pp. 1496-1499
DOI: 10.1126/science.1165915

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An Odd Sort of Revolution

Joseph Hooker was the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, when Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace were presenting their ideas about evolution by natural selection. Hooker was a good friend of Darwin's and an ardent ally of evolutionary thinking, who came to realize that natural selection would have little impact on the taxonomist's endeavor. Endersby (p. 1496) reviews taxonomic practice in the 19th century, arguing that the concept of evolution was almost a sideshow in the energetic debate about whether to group varieties into single species or whether to divide species into endless varieties. On the one hand, Hooker was a “lumper,” who found it hard to tolerate the thought of species constantly emerging, because it hindered his analysis of global patterns of species richness. On the other hand, Darwin's vision reconciled both modes of classification in revealing the genealogy of life on Earth.