Splitsville with Constantine Raffinesque
Posted by Richard Conniff on October 22, 2012
Today’s the birthday of Constantine Rafinesque (1783-1840), a notorious “splitter.” What did he split?
2. He split established species into several new species.
3. He split wood.
4. He split collections to sell to different museums.
And the answer is
Constantine Rafinesque was a species monger, too drunk on the elixir of discovery to take much care with his work. Rafinesque’s zeal for names and categories was such that he once supposedly submitted a scientific paper describing 12 new species of thunder and lightning. Certain naturalists, Rafinesque notorious among them, had mastered the trick of racking up “discoveries” by taking one perfectly good species and subdividing it into a half-dozen new species based on trivial differences. These “splitters” drove naturalist Thomas Say, who was otherwise mild and genial, to fulmination: “… posterity will rise up in judgment against all those pirated names & indignantly strike them from the list.” He was right. In the twentieth century, “lumpers” would devote whole careers to the heroic but tedious work of un-discovery, recombining spurious species and ushering them back to their proper places in the taxonomic order.
Read more about Rafinesque’s colorful career in The Species Seekers by Richard Conniff.