No concept has greater theoretical and practical importance in biology than species. Without reliable knowledge of species, we are incapable of accurately identifying the kinds of organisms we are studying, and without equally reliable scientific names, our efforts to communicate our observations are muted. Show an unfamiliar plant or animal to anyone, adult or child, and her first question is invariably, “What is it?” A crucial part of the answer to that question is a species name, and behind that name are sophisticated scientific hypotheses. In the age of digital databases, scientific names are playing an ever more central role in biodiversity informatics (Patterson et al. 2006).

“Biodiversity” has become a household word and a focus for international treaties and law. We claim to hold the conservation of biodiversity as a high priority, yet we are nearly wholly ignorant of what biodiversity is. We pass laws, like the Endangered Species …

This essay may be found on page 181 of the printed volume.

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