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simplifying the journey to compile a complete list of all life on Earth – podcast

Science has long been relied upon to provide order in our rapidly changing world. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that there is no definitive list of all life on Earth. This lack of consensus has led to a messy struggle to classify the world around us, as explored in a recent episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast.

The world of taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, is filled with competing lists, rogue taxonomists, and accusations of anarchy. Efforts to create a single, comprehensive list of life on Earth have been hampered by the ease with which new species can be named. According to Stephen Garnett, a professor of conservation at Charles Darwin University, naming a new species does not require peer review but simply adherence to the rules of naming and the use of Latin.

However, this ease of naming species has led to a multitude of lists depending on which taxonomy is followed. This poses a problem for conservationists who rely on clear species definitions for their work. Garnett argues that it is difficult to keep up with all the publications introducing new species, especially if they are buried in obscure books. As a result, different people follow different taxonomies, resulting in multiple lists of species.

Garnett himself found himself at the center of a taxonomic controversy when he co-authored a paper in the journal Nature, claiming that taxonomy is remarkably anarchic for a discipline aiming to impose order on the natural world. This sparked a scientific debate on how to bring order to the competing lists and prevent rogue taxonomists from causing chaos.

To learn more about this taxonomic struggle and its implications, listen to the full episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast. A transcript of the episode will also be available shortly.

The Conversation Weekly podcast features Signe Dean, science and technology editor for The Conversation in Australia. It was written and produced by Katie Flood, with assistance from Mend Mariwany. Sound design was by Eloise Stevens, and the theme music is by Neeta Sarl. Gemma Ware serves as the executive producer.

You can follow The Conversation Weekly on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom, or reach out via email at You can also subscribe to The Conversation’s free daily email newsletter.

To listen to The Conversation Weekly, you can find it on various podcast platforms or download it directly from the RSS feed. More information on how to listen can be found on The Conversation’s website.

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