positivism and MOLECULAR BIOLOGY

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 4 10:44:05 CST 1997

Tom and James:
     I have to get offline for today, but I think you are talking past
each other to a certain extent.  You both make valid points, but my view
is as follows:
     Parsimony (not necessarily MAXIMUM parsimony) is very important,
but too many workers put too much faith in "maximal" or "near-maximal"
parsimony, even when there is good evidence to the contrary.  I
continually cite Woese because I think he represents a bad case of this
sort, continually explaining away or rejecting evidence that contradicts
his paradigm.  If you have a bias against certain kinds of data, you
aren't getting parsimony at all.  And furthermore, the number of
"acceptably" parsimonious solutions to a problem are usually high enough
that bias can often be a factor in which solution is ultimately chosen
by a given investigator.  This is especially true of molecular
systematics, which is still in its infancy (although too many molecular
biologists seem to regard it as a fully developed discipline).
Ultimately, homoplasy will continue to deceive those who underestimate
it (and many molecular biologists haven't learned this lesson, or at
least they have not learned it well).
                                           Sincerely, Ken Kinman

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