Meredith Lane mlane at KUHUB.CC.UKANS.EDU
Wed Aug 2 15:02:48 CDT 1995

I never meant those quotes to impugn your own acceptance or not of
uncertainty, merely to point out that uncertainty is in fact what science
is all about. Neither was I commenting on your IQ (the very reason that I
left your name off the sentence taken from your message).

If we would all just remember consciously to tell
ourselves, when looking at a phylogenetic reconstruction, "this is
nothing more than a mere hypothesis", then such concern would not need to
be so great. ALL of science is as shaky as is PR; much of it is just
covered up better. You worry about extinction in PR; I worry about
reticulation. The methods are imperfect, but so are everybody else's.

If we leave off trying to reconstruct phylogeny, we will be back
_exactly_ to the spot that Sokal and Sneath and that crew stood upon in
the 60s when they invented phenetics. Their assumption was that evolution
happens, but we can't _possibly_ ever figure out how, so let's not try.
Their methods of comparison of overall similarity are good in a
statistical sense, but not very satisfying biologically (in my opinion).
I think that is why the systematic world swung away from phenetics toward
cladistics rather rapidly.

Now, for the real crux of your initial message as I remember it: You
object to the level of funding given to PR studies relative to that for
"alpha" type studies that do not include PR. In FY 94, 130 molecular PR
proposals were submitted to NSF Systematics program; of these, 29 were
funded (22%). The same year, there were 39  proposals for morphological
PR and 7 funded (18%).  At the same time there were 13 proposals for
"monographs/revisions" of which 6 were funded (46%). I submit that a
higher rate of proposal submission in the last category would result in a
higher number of funded monograph/revision ("alpha") type studies. What
matters to panels and program directors is good science, not a particular
tool. The science lies in the experimental design and the justification,
not in the tool (although it _would_ be nice if all our tools were

Now, I do think that part of what you are getting at is that we need to
be training the next generation in true _systematics_, which includes
morphology, ecology, biogeography, physiology , primary and secondary
chemistry, genetics, reproductive biology, anatomy/histology...[the "jack
of all trades" approach], not just in PR based on a single data set.
Couldn't agree with you more--some of our generation could do with a
reminder of that, as well. Systematics is the ultimate synthetic science,
after all. But, let's not throw out the "unitary" studies just because
they are not universal...if nothing else, they can be used as good "straw
men" for the later synthetic analysis--which brings us back to the
"remember the hypothesis" comment I made at the beginning. Hypotheses are
_supposed_ to be shot at -- and with that preposition I shall end.


Meredith A. Lane
Curator, Botany
University of Kansas 66047-3729

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