Circularity and testing.

Mark Garland MAGarland at AOL.COM
Fri Oct 18 19:21:54 CDT 1996

How did a discussion of the "attitrion" of taxonomic expertise become an
argument between partisans of statistical vs. parsimony (Sanderson, Syst.
Biol. 44:300. 1995) approaches to phylogeny reconstruction?  Will this save

More generally:  What is it about parsimony that inspires such a religious
faith in its efficacy?  I've read some of the older literature (it reveals
underlying patterns of nature, makes no assumptions, relies only on
"explanatory power [Farris, Advances in Cladistics vol.2, 1983], etc. etc.),
but still don't understand.  When people believe in something this strongly,
you can bet they'll overlook any faults--or explain them away with the
dreaded ad hoc hypothesis.  (I'm not making an uncorroborated assumption
here--this is merely an observation to be tested by further analysis.)

Finally, a quote from Sneath (a pheneticist, and partisan of statistics, and
obviously unscientific) in the same issue of Systematic Biology (p. 286):
 "The rise of interest in Hennigian cladistics...was to me very surprising.
 It seemed obvious that if one could be certain of evolutionary homologies
and ancestral and descendant character states then the reconstruction of
phylogeny would be straightforward.  But I found it hard to believe that
these homologies and states could be determined in the naive fashion that was

Apologizing for this naive interruption of a sophisticated debate,

Mark A. Garland
Office of Environmental Services
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, Mail Station 140
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-3000

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