Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Queen of the Sciences, an Honorary Doctorate for Leonard Co?

he untimely deaths of Leonard Co and Professsor Dan Lagunzad within 36 hours of each other (Co was shot in the field and Lagunzad to cancer), both excellent botanists and plant taxonomists from the University of the Philippines should be a wake up call for the Philippine science establishment and scientists. They should not take taxonomy for granted and give more research funding for this important science.

Taxonomy is rightly the Queen of the Sciences. Without Aristotle trying to classify things of nature due to their essences and attributes, there would not be any Western Science, Western Thought, Western Theology and Catholic doctrine. I would not go into why this is so, but anyone who got a liberal education will know that Aristotle's works form the basis for Western thought in all its aspects.

In the natural sciences, Taxonomy is the Queen of the Biological Sciences. As Leonard Co told me 6 months ago, without taxonomy no one can really understand biodiversity. Now we know that the word "biodiversity" is a sort of mantra in order to secure research funding even if the proposed research has little to do with biodiversity! Add a dash of "Climate Change" and voila, your grant will be likely approved.

Nonethess it is a Darwinian and Wallacean principle that the unit of biodiversity is the species. Darwin's magnum opus is called "Origin of Species" and Wallace's  is "On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species" are the FOUNDATION DOCUMENTS OF THE MODERN BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES. The works are premised on recognizing what a species is. But how does one go about recognizing what a species is all about?

This blog post cannot answer that question but the start to answering it comes from observing nature. And this is what Leonard has given his life for and for which Dan strove to teach generations of students. The act of observing nature and determining the variation in plants or animals requires long hours in the field and it can never be completely learned in the classroom or laboratory. John Steinbeck knew this when he wrote the "Log from the Sea of Cortez" which is the journal part of Steinbeck and Ricketts' "Sea of Cortez", a phyletic catalogue, a work of taxonomy and systematics. Leonard has spent 40 years of his life doing so and still his knowledge is incomplete and ours too.

And now we need a new generation of students who will be willing to offer 40 years or more of their lives to this vocation of which is a lot people say is a science career dead end . Studying biodiversity is Life and sometimes one has to give one's Life as an ultimate offering. Even Wallace and Darwin were mortally ill at some point in their careers and were ready to face death.

The forests and marine environments in the words of Alfred Russel Wallace are "lately gone" Leonard and Dan certainly knew this. The call for more taxonomists is a huge challenge since biodiversity is disappearing literally before our eyes!

In this sense I propose that the University of the Philippines through its Regents upon the recommendation of the University Council to confer a posthumous Doctor of Science to Leonard Co. This is in recognition for the excellent science he has done and the inspiration he gave to countless students, environmentalists and young scientists, the proof of the pudding of which was evident during his wake.

I know that if he were alive, the down to earth Leonard will decline the honour and chide me for even suggesting it like the time when I last spoke to him about my biogeography paper.

The University of the Philippines has conferred honorary doctorates for lesser work and to lesser people. I think my proposal is sensible. After all many have called him Dr Co! Leonard has published so many taxonomy papers and books. I hope a definitive book on his plant taxonomy work will be published from his papers.

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I was moved to tears at the slide show presented by the UP Institute of Biology on Leonard's homecoming to the University. Especially that slide that showed  his coffin laid at the Oblation's feet. Leonard was 53 but still the Oblation's epithet from Dr Rizal's El Filibusterismo rings true

"¿Done esta la juventud que ha de consagrar sus rosdas horas, sus ilusiones y enthsiasmo al biende su patria? Donde esta la que ha de vertir generosa su sange para lavr tantas vergüenzas, tantos crimines, tanta abominación? Pura y sin mancha ha de ser la victima que habeis de encarna en vosotros el vigor de la vida que ha huido de nuestras venas, la pureza de las ideas que se ha manchado en nuestras cerebros y el fuego del entusiasmo que se ha apagado en nuestros corazones? Os esperamos, o jóvenes, venid que os esperamos!"

After all persisting to study the Queen of the Biological Sciences can be construed as an illusion! Very apt!

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At an Army reservists meeting I attended, the reserve officers expressed their sadness at Leonard's death as it was a great loss to the nation.


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