Article ID: CBB001420119

The Normative Structure of Mathematization in Systematic Biology (2014)


We argue that the mathematization of science should be understood as a normative activity of advocating for a particular methodology with its own criteria for evaluating good research. As a case study, we examine the mathematization of taxonomic classification in systematic biology. We show how mathematization is a normative activity by contrasting its distinctive features in numerical taxonomy in the 1960s with an earlier reform advocated by Ernst Mayr starting in the 1940s. Both Mayr and the numerical taxonomists sought to formalize the work of classification, but Mayr introduced a qualitative formalism based on human judgment for determining the taxonomic rank of populations, while the numerical taxonomists introduced a quantitative formalism based on automated procedures for computing classifications. The key contrast between Mayr and the numerical taxonomists is how they conceptualized the temporal structure of the workflow of classification, specifically where they allowed meta-level discourse about difficulties in producing the classification.

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Authors & Contributors
Quinn, Aleta
Stephen B. Heard
Bernardi, Massimo
Menegon, Michele
Bellati, Adriana
Emily S. Damstra
Journal of the History of Biology
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
Journal Electronique d'Histoire des Probabilités et de la Statistique
Cuvillier Verlag
Yale University Press
Société Française de Systématique
KMK Scientific Press
Cambridge University Press
Systematics (biology)
Classification in biology
Terminology and nomenclature
Linnaeus, Carolus
Mayr, Ernst
Harris, Thaddeus Mason
Grene, Marjorie
Hull, David Lee
Temminck, Coenraad Jacob
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
21st century
20th century, late
20th century, early
United States
Boston (Massachusetts, U.S.)

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