IUBio GIL .. BIOSCI/Bionet News .. Biosequences .. Software .. FTP


Mark Siddall mes at zoo.toronto.edu
Thu Apr 6 22:42:38 EST 1995

Am I the only one getting tired of this?  
Whether or not we are "parasitologists" or "net-negative-effect-ists"
or "ecto-endo-symbiontists" or "not-freeliving-ists" is wholly
immaterial.  There is absolutely no way to objectively define
a parasite.  It is semantic pidgeon-holeing with no basis in any
biological reality.  We cannot say something "is" or "is not" a parasite
because there is no intensive definition of any such thing.  All defintiions
of parasite are extensive.  
A fitting analogy is the word "worm".  Once upon a time there was
the attempt (in systematics) to give some biological meaning to the
word worm in the form of the taxon "Vermes".  So , annelids, platyhelminths, 
acanthocephalans, nemerteans, nematodes and even rotifers all found 
themselves in the group "Vermes".  This was a classic case of 
Aristotelian essentialism if not influenced by Gauthian Naturphilosophie 
and the chain-of-being.
It was also wrong and devoid of meaning.
A parasitologist on the other hand can be defined: someone who attends
parasitology meetings or publishes in parasitological journals or 
simply calls him/herself a parasitologist.  That is intensive.
Being a parasitologist may well be a productive thing by bringing one
into contact with others that are interested in "parasitology" but if you've
ever attended the meetings of various societies, one immediately 
recognizes that there are some areas of discourse that one's 
research interest touches on and others that are just wholly unrelated.
This is not necessarily a problem as it provides a means for those in
attendance to achieve breadth.  But it is this overall lack of anything
biologically singular that typifies parasitology.  Not some objective
quantum called a "parasite".

Mark E. Siddall                "I don't mind a parasite...
mes at vims.edu                    I object to a cut-rate one" 
Virginia Inst. Marine Sci.                     - Rick
Gloucester Point, VA, 23062

More information about the Parasite mailing list

Send comments to us at archive@iubioarchive.bio.net