Ernst Mayr and "Life"

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 15 08:45:28 CDT 1999

>From: Curtis Clark <jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU>
>At 10:05 PM 9/13/99 -0700, Ken Kinman wrote:
> > I think there have been several versions, from about 7 to 9 kingdoms
>(the majority being among the protists).
     I guess I should have added, although I didn't find Thomas
Cavalier-Smith's 7-9 Kingdoms stable enough and heuristic enough to adopt
for long-term use, I did find his attempts very instructive, and I would
highly recommend any of his papers on any subject.  What he attempted was
quite remarkable, and his understanding of the issues and the breadth of his
knowledge are astounding.  Although I don't always agree with his
classifications, his knowledge of the diversity and evolution of protists is
unmatched.  And I still find his obcell theory (1987) for the precellular
evolution of life to be quite remarkable and convincing, even if it is still
rarely discussed.

> >   Four Kingdoms are stable, easy to teach and learn, and Phylum Eumycota
>falls totally within Kingdom Protista , whether or not you include
>chytrids >within it or as an external ancestral group (take your pick).  I
>have no
> >major problems with recognizing a fifth kingdom, but for heaven's sake,
> >it Eumyota, not Fungi (since the latter is quite polyphyletic).
>Did no one ever teach you about emendation?

     I have no problem with emendation, for without it systematics would be
a complex and chaotic mess. Unfortunately, in the case of "fungi", almost
every conceivable combination of saprophytic fungal groups continue to be
grouped under a Kingdom Fungi (sometimes equivalent to Eumycota and
sometimes not).  Using the name Eumycota, whether you call it a Phylum or a
separate fifth Kingdom, will go a long way towards eliminating the confusion
and prevent future backsliding.  I think 30 years of confusion and
backsliding are quite enough.  ---KEK

> >It may seem a bit mean-spirited to keep criticizing his paradigm,
>Not only that, but it reduces the force of your arguments, because people
>start to see you as a crackpot.

    If it begins to open people's eyes to the many problems created by
Woese's paradigm, then I am quite willing to continue being dumped on.  His
influence is perhaps more pervasive than many realize, often in very subtle
ways.  In my opinion, Woese does not exhibit the admirable qualities of
someone like Thomas Cavalier-Smith (who admits his mistakes and tries to
correct them in a timely manner).  Although Cavalier-Smith presently may not
be as well-known and quoted as Woese is, in the long run I think
Cavalier-Smith will rank up there with Ernst Mayr,
and Woese may well become an embarrassing footnote (although he certainly
has time to turn that around if he chooses to do so).  As I said in a
posting in this forum (last October I think it was, after the Mayr-Woese
debate appeared in PNAS),  I can no longer be angry with Woese, just greatly
                  -------Ken Kinman

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