This comment by Stewart Butterfield caught my eye:
“The idea that it’s possible to cleave nature at the joints is controversial. Yes, there are countries, Uzbekistan is a country, but ask a physicist or a biologist and the categories are very fraught.”
Thats not entirely accurate. Folk taxonomies are a well studied subject. Whats interesting about them is not how much people differ, but how much consensus there is about categorization schemes. Read this article to get a broad overview.
Folk Biology and the Anthropology of Science: Cognitive Universals and Cultural Particulars. And the abstract for anyone interested.
This essay in the “anthropology of science” is about how cognition constrains culture in producing science. The example is folk biology, whose cultural recurrence issues from the very same domain-specific cognitive universals that provide the historical backbone of systematic biology. Humans everywhere think about plants and animals in highly structured ways. People have similar folk-biological taxonomies composed of essence-based species-like groups and the ranking of species into lower- and higher-order groups. Such taxonomies are not as arbitrary in structure and content, nor as variable across cultures, as the assembly of entities into cosmologies, materials or social groups.
Moreover, decades of research in psychology shows that human beings are remarkably good at categorization decisions. Infants a few months old can learn to categorize , albeit by shape.
There are several reasons why categorization on the web has just not turned out to be the sort of panacea to finding problems that one could have hoped for. But its NOT because people cannot categorize. People can categorize far better than they remember by association.
I am as fascinated by folksnomies as the next person. But lets get our facts right. Maybe even even read a research paper or two by people who have spent their lives exploring these topics.
Perhaps I need to tag some of these papers (or tag pictures of the paper authors!) with tags such as “folksnomy”, “research” and “categorization” and post to Flickr or del.icio.us so that people can find them!