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what is a taxonomist

what is a taxonomist

what is a taxonomist

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Taxonomy is the practice and science of categorization or classification. The word finds its roots in the Greek language τάξιςtaxis (meaning ‘order’, ‘arrangement’) and νόμοςnomos (‘law’ or ‘science’).

A taxonomy (or taxonomical classification) is a scheme of classification, especially a hierarchical classification, in which things are organized into groups or types. Among other things, a taxonomy can be used to organize and index knowledge (stored as documents, articles, videos, etc.), such as in the form of a library classification system, or a search engine taxonomy, so that users can more easily find the information they are searching for. Many taxonomies are hierarchies (and thus, have an intrinsic tree structure), but not all are.


Originally, taxonomy referred only to the categorisation of organisms or a particular categorisation of organisms. In a wider, more general sense, it may refer to a categorisation of things or concepts, as well as to the principles underlying such a categorisation. Taxonomy organizes taxonomic units known as “taxa” (singular “taxon”).”

Taxonomy is different from meronomy, which deals with the categorisation of parts of a whole.

what is a taxonomist
what is a taxonomist


Wikipedia categories illustrate a taxonomy, and a full taxonomy of Wikipedia categories can be extracted by automatic means. As of 2009, it has been shown that a manually-constructed taxonomy, such as that of computational lexicons like WordNet, can be used to improve and restructure the Wikipedia category taxonomy.

In a broader sense, taxonomy also applies to relationship schemes other than parent-child hierarchies, such as network structures. Taxonomies may then include a single child with multi-parents, for example, “Car” might appear with both parents “Vehicle” and “Steel Mechanisms”; to some however, this merely means that ‘car’ is a part of several different taxonomies.

A taxonomy might also simply be organization of kinds of things into groups, or an alphabetical list; here, however, the term vocabulary is more appropriate. In current usage within knowledge management, taxonomies are considered narrower than ontologies since ontologies apply a larger variety of relation types.

Core and penumbra

Mathematically, a hierarchical taxonomy is a tree structure of classifications for a given set of objects. It is also named containment hierarchy. At the top of this structure is a single classification, the root node, that applies to all objects. Nodes below this root are more specific classifications that apply to subsets of the total set of classified objects. The progress of reasoning proceeds from the general to the more specific.

By contrast, in the context of legal terminology, an open-ended contextual taxonomy is employed—a taxonomy holding only with respect to a specific context. In scenarios taken from the legal domain, a formal account of the open-texture of legal terms is modeled, which suggests varying notions of the “core” and “penumbra” of the meanings of a concept. The progress of reasoning proceeds from the specific to the more general.


Anthropologists have observed that taxonomies are generally embedded in local cultural and social systems, and serve various social functions. Perhaps the most well-known and influential study of folk taxonomies is Émile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. A more recent treatment of folk taxonomies (including the results of several decades of empirical research) and the discussion of their relation to the scientific taxonomy can be found in Scott Atran’s Cognitive Foundations of Natural History.

Folk taxonomies of organisms have been found in large part to agree with scientific classification, at least for the larger and more obvious species, which means that it is not the case that folk taxonomies are based purely on utilitarian characteristics.


In the seventeenth century the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, following the work of the thirteenth-century Majorcan philosopher Ramon Llull on his Ars generalis ultima, a system for procedurally generating concepts by combining a fixed set of ideas, sought to develop an alphabet of human thought. Leibniz intended his characteristica universalis to be an “algebra” capable of expressing all conceptual thought.

The concept of creating such a “universal language” was frequently examined in the 17th century, also notably by the English philosopher John Wilkins in his work An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668), from which the classification scheme in Roget’s Thesaurus ultimately derives.

What is a taxonomist?

A taxonomist is an information scientist who studies how different ideas and entities can be categorized. They have extensive education in their industry so that they can make accurate and thoughtful classifications. For example, a biology taxonomist might have an advanced degree in zoology while a digital taxonomist might have a background in library sciences or education. Taxonomists use a complex methodology to sort and classify information so that others can easily access and understand concepts in an intuitive, user-friendly way.

Types of taxonomists

There are several types of taxonomists who apply their methodology and education to different industries:

Natural science taxonomists

Natural science taxonomists are generally what people think of when discussing the concept of taxonomy. Taxonomists who work in natural science fields name and classify plants, animals and natural elements. They identify and name new species and diseases so that other scientists can discuss them appropriately during their studies. Natural science taxonomists can specialize in identifying things like soil types, atmospheric conditions, plants, animals and viruses.

what is a taxonomist
what is a taxonomist

Digital taxonomists

Digital taxonomists organize web content to make it easier for users to access. They help design and manage web pages, deciding which “child pages” flow into “parent pages” in the most logical way. For example, a digital taxonomist could help a business owner design the navigation for their online store. Instead of listing all of the product links directly on the main page, a digital taxonomist could identify what categories and sub-categories are related to customer needs.

Business taxonomists

It develop hierarchies and classifications of different jobs, responsibilities and economic activities. Business taxonomists often work in records management or human resources to create logical workflows and workplace reporting systems. They also analyze economic activity in different industries to facilitate research and policy-making decisions.

Computing taxonomists

Taxonomy is also a key profession in computer science, creating definitions for different computing and software systems as they develop. Computing taxonomists commonly work with search engines to make user searches more relevant based on the categories they search for and how each result relates to a keyword. They also describe how data travels through computing systems and networks to facilitate system administration. Computing taxonomists study human behavior and examine how people sort and tag their own digital information to find it more easily in the future.

Academic taxonomists

Educational and academic taxonomists create frameworks for teaching others and explaining academic concepts. They develop systems for categorizing and achieving learning goals in a hierarchical way, commonly known as “scaffolding.” They also classify various academic disciplines using code systems and categories to help educational institutions organize their programming and enable students to access the most relevant educational tools and classes for their current skill level.

From the Greeks to the Renaissance

The first great generalizer in Western classification was Aristotle, who virtually invented the science of logic, of which for 2,000 years classification was a part. Greeks had constant contact with the sea and marine life. And Aristotle seems to have studied it intensively during his stay on the island of Lesbos. In his writings, he described a large number of natural groups, and, although he ranked them from simple to complex, his order was not an evolutionary one.

He was far ahead of his time, however, in separating invertebrate animals into different groups and was aware that whales, dolphins. And porpoises had mammalian characters and were not fish. Lacking the microscope, he could not, of course, deal with the minute forms of life.

19th century

The Aristotelian method dominated classification until the 19th century. His scheme was, in effect, that the classification of a living thing by its nature—i.e., what it really is, as against superficial resemblances—requires the examination of many specimens, the discarding of variable characters (since they must be accidental, not essential), and the establishment of constant characters. These can then be used to develop a definition that states the essence of the living thing. What makes it what it is and thus cannot be altered. The essence is, of course, immutable.

The model for this procedure is to be seen in mathematics, especially geometry, which fascinated the Greeks. Mathematics seemed to them the type and exemplar of perfect knowledge. Since its deductions from axioms were certain and its definitions perfect, irrespective of whether a perfect geometrical figure could ever be drawn. But the Aristotelian procedure applied to living things is not by deduction from stated and known axioms.

mid-19th century

Rather, it is by induction from observed examples. And thus does not lead to the immutable essence but to a lexical definition. Although it provided for centuries a procedure for attempting to define living things by careful analysis. It neglected the variation of living things. It is of interest that the few people who understood Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in the mid-19th century were empiricists who did not believe in an essence of each form.

Aristotle and his pupil in botany, Theophrastus, had no notable successors for 1,400 years. In about the 12th century CE, botanical works necessary to medicine began to contain accurate illustrations of plants, and a few began to arrange similar plants together. Encyclopaedists also began to bring together classical wisdom and some contemporary observations. The first flowering of the Renaissance in biology produced, in 1543. Andreas Vesalius’s treatise on human anatomy and, in 1545, the first university botanic garden, founded in Padua, Italy. After this time, work in botany and zoology flourished.

what is a taxonomist
what is a taxonomist

17th century

John Ray summarized in the late 17th century the available systematic knowledge, with useful classifications. He distinguished the monocotyledonous plants from the dicotyledonous ones in 1703, recognized the true affinities of the whales, and gave a workable definition of the species concept, which had already become the basic unit of biological classification. He tempered the Aristotelian logic of classification with empirical observation.

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