The Taxonomy Fail Index

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Taxonomy fails irk me. Some might say disproportionately so. They might even have a point. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to at least try to get these sorts of things right, so I was pleased to Alex Wild, over at Myrmecos, taking the time to come up with a formula for figuring out just how wrong a taxonomy fail is. Of course it doesn’t stop people making the mistakes in the first place, but if we have a way of quickly figuring out who’s making the biggest blunders we can, at least, make an attempt to accurately target our … re-education attempts. He calls it the Taxonomy Fail Index, or TFI.

As an experiment, I ran my favourite taxonomy fail through it, and it turns out that calling penguins mammals has a TFI of about 531. That makes it about 53 times stupider than calling Sarah Palin a chimp, but still not quite as stupid as insisting that scale insects are beetles.

So there you go.

  1. The last common ancestor of mammals and birds was also the last common ancestor of the two great classes of Reptile, the Synapsids and Sauropsids, which diverged some 320 million years ago. Humans and Chimps, by contrast, diverged somewhere between five and seven million years ago. []

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