Paraphyly etc.

Don Colless donc at ENTO.CSIRO.AU
Wed Jun 18 15:49:43 CDT 1997


"A
systematist can publish the shortest tree in the results section, yet still
go into a discussion of why he/she doesn't believe it should be accepted at
face value. That seems like honest science, to me."

Doug Yanega's comment (above) not only seems like, but IS, "good science".
And what is NOT good science is the notion that some algorithm can, on its own,
yield a truly scientific result. And that holds even if we have applied
supplementary algorithms for, e.g., calculating "branch support" (vide Tom
Pape's comments). Moreover, we have (in my opinion) as taxonomists a number of
duties to fellow scientists, and these will often involve compromises. It may
make you feel like Sherlock Holmes (My God, Holmes. How do you do it!) to reveal
or feel that you are revealing the true course of E-history, which MUST then be
the ONLY basis of your classification. But bear in mind also that you are
providing a naming system for organisms, which is going to be used frequently -
in "economic groups", perhaps mainly - by folk who couldn't care less about
zoogeography or even comparative morphology.

Tom DiB. raised the point of being "interested in a naming system which reflects
the history of lineage branching (and perhaps you are not)". The choice is not
so stark. One can still "reflect" a lot of history, but perhaps not all of it,
as a strictly isomorphic classification. But one can thus avoid producing taxa,
some of which are distinctive, but others practically indistinguishable (which
is a corollary of cladistic fundamentalism). We need wisdom as well as
(presumed) knowledge.

Referring back to Doug Y.'s opening comment: the systematist who does just that
is (if an entomologist, anyway) going to cop an awful lot of flak from his
referees. But it's nice to note that botanists seem generally more relaxed in
these matters!

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               *  Don Colless, CSIRO Div of Entomology, *
               *     PO Box 1700 CANBERRA. ACT. 2601    *
               *         (donc at ento.csiro.au)           *
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