Section II: Price=Value=Cost: Solving a Simple Economy
Halftime: What We Have Done So Far
Section III: In Search of the Real World
Section IV: Standing in for Moral Philosophy: The Economist as Judge
Section V: Applications: Conventional and Un
All paleontologists fall into one or the other of two classes, known in the trade as "lumpers" and "splitters." Faced with a new dinosaur skeleton, a lumper will confidently assign it to an already known species, explaining any differences from previously discovered skeletons by differences in age or sex. A splitter will, with equal confidence, assign the new skeleton to a new species. In a world of splitters, the number of species would be limited only by the number of specimens.
Economics may not tell us very much about dinosaurs, but it can tell us something about paleontologists. The discoverer of a new species gets to assign it a name, and by so doing guarantees himself a small but permanent place in the professional literature, along with the associated prestige. The discoverer of the thirteenth example of a known species gets no such rewards.
It follows that paleontologists have, from professional self interest, a bias in favor of identifying new specimens as new species--splitting pays. We cannot deduce that any particular identification is mistaken, but it seems reasonable to suspect that the result is too many splitters&endash;and species.
Consider the history of the most famous of the fabulous dinosaurs. In the nineteenth century, two paleontologists, Marsh and Cope, were competing in the search for dinosaurs in the American West. One of them found a dinosaur head and, some distance away, a dinosaur body--both belonging, as we now know, to species that had already been identified. He concluded that the head and body belonged together, and named the resulting hybrid "Brontosaurus."
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