standardized taxonomy

JOSEPH E. LAFERRIERE josephl at AZTEC.ASU.EDU
Mon Sep 7 11:14:12 CDT 1998


Further elaboration on the point I was making this morning:

Systematists have long employed "trees" to illustrate the course evolution has taken over
the ages. The attempt to create a tree that  reflects evolutionary history as nearly accurate
as humanly possible is a question separate from the question of what names to assign the
branches. Two sister taxa (i.e. the two branches of a dichotomy) may be regarded as two
genera, two tribes, two families, or two kingdoms.  It is one or more humans that decides
that question. Of course, the humans may decide the two branches do not merit names.
We do not have enough levels in the hirarchy to assign pairs of formal names to each pair
of sister taxa on earth. I have seen people try to do this, and the results are rather silly.

The question is not

"Do pandas really belong to the bear family or the raccoon family?"

That is a bogus, anthropocentric question. Correctly phrased, it should read,

"Does it better serve the interests of human science to regard pandas as belonging to the
bear family, the raccoon family, or the geranium family?"

We have chosen to use phylogenetic methods to answer that question. I can think of no
better criteria. But it seems unwise to lose sight of the fact that it is we poor humble
humans who are asking the question and we are the ones answering it as well. Mother
Nature is watching us struggling with this question, thinking ...  "Frankly, Scarlett ..."

--
Dr. Joseph E. Laferriere
"Computito ergo sum ...  I link therefore I am."




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