"Phylogenetic reconstruction"

Fri Jul 28 15:37:37 CDT 1995

  "Phylogenetic reconstruction" is a phrase promoted by platonists, who
are now, of course, completely discredited. Scientists make theories
that predict future discovery.  Hennigian cladistics is a nice extension
to standard alpha taxonomy. No big deal. You can use it to group the
taxa you study, and it sure helps you clarify your evolutionary ideas
and deal with a big data set.  It *must* be better than what we have
done in the past.
  Grouping taxa by shared presumed advanced traits is a simple extension
of "like produces like," which is a fine basis for grouping
phylogenetically. Clearly, IF Hennigian cladistics does not work
well, then we STILL create a classification that groups by shared presumed
advanced traits. OF COURSE it doesn't work well, it's just too simple.
But even as a partly artificial classification it still extends what is
known from genetics, population and evolutionary studies as best we can
extend it.  If you have additional information, then you can modify the
results of the exact algorithm.  At this stage of knowledge about the
world's organisms, a very simple algorithm is all we have to go on; we
have no additional information for most taxa. Sure, Hennigian cladistics
as a simple algorithm may have poor predictive power, but as we get new
information, it is the result of the simple algorithm to which the new
information is added, and predictive power (predicting how new
information fits in) is enhanced.
  Don't listen to anyone tell you they are reconstructing phylogeny.
It's a shuck. The best they can do is what we all do, create testable
inferences and modify the theory as we add more information.

Richard Zander
Buffalo Museum of Science
visbms at ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu

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