Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Science is easier from the outside

As part of a larger project on security configuration issues, I’m doing a lot of learning about taxonomies and typographies right now. (A taxonomy is a hierarchical typography.)
I am often jealous of the world of biology, where there are underlying realities that can be used for categorization purposes. (A taxonomy needs a decision tree. Any trained person using this tree should classify the same items the same way.)
A new type of shark has recently been discovered, in the Sea Star Aquarium, in Coburg, Germany. This is (at least) the second zoo that the shark has been in.
We are not embarrassed,” said [Schonbrunn Zoo] spokesman Dr Ekkehard Wolf. “We get thousands of exotic animals every year. It is not possible to categorize them all. (From The Telegraph.)
See a picture (and read the article) at or read Google’s translation
Even the lucky biologists run into difficulty classifying their species. I feel better trying to classify minimum time between password changes.

2 comments on "Science is easier from the outside"

  • Ian says:

    Lucky indeed…careful what you wish for: classification in Biology is fraught with issues that you will not have to face. Just look at the issues we have in studying human evolution which, geologically, happened yesterday!
    Well you just inspired a post that you can check out on my site.

  • Justin Mason says:

    Hi Adam — just found your weblog via Ed Felten’s. subscribed!
    My fiancee is a zoologist, and yep, this is by no means clear-cut in that field — in fact, I attended one Systematics talk in university with her, so I can throw in the odd misinformed comment here. (I was there for the free booze afterwards. 😉
    Particularly when dealing with the fossil record, systematicians use skeleton structure to differentiate species and track their evolution, because there isn’t much else there to go on. However, even that isn’t trivial, since evolution has a tendency to converge on “good solutions” sometimes; for example, one species may have 4 “fingers” on the end of its “arms”, and evolve an extra “finger” — but if you’ve already classified two species as different based on one having 4 fingers and one having 5, you’ll now wind up in a situation where you’ll infer that the later 5-fingered species is part of the earlier 5-fingered tree, instead of the 4-fingered one.
    In other words, choosing the wrong differentiator for the taxonomy results in problems as it does in any other field.
    IIRC, there’s even increasing acceptance in zoology that the concept of “species” may be partially incorrect, since in some cases there can be a continuum of cross-breeding and there’s no clear dividing line.

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