Cladistics, compromise and politics

John Grehan jrg13 at PSU.EDU
Wed Sep 22 08:37:44 CDT 1999

Ken Kinman wrote
>    Well, it's gratifying to see the cladists do not agree on this point
>either.  Perhaps this is additional evidence that the problems of strict
>cladism has caused a further splintering of cladists into several feuding
>camps.  It certainly makes debating them a tricky proposition (no wonder
>these threads are starting to give me a headache).

Cladism, like any research program, is simply a label to which any
number of practioners may identify themselves. Since the label represents
individuals who determine what they stand for, there is no necessary
coherence or congruence of their views. Thus, the "splintering" is nothing
unusual, would likely apply to any established research program in
systematics or anything else, and its probable that even when cladistics
was being advanced by a small number of people these practioners did
not have an identical view on the subject. Similiarly one will find that there
are different views on panbiogeography - even though there are far fewer
theorists involved.

, my fertile "middle ground"
>seems to lie even between some cladist camps.

I always wonder about middle ground. It seems to me an ideological or
political concept whose appeal is based on the view that a political
compromise between opposing views is more "real" than the alternatives.
Compromise is a pragmatic necessity in pluralistic societies where people
with differing phliosophies (religions, politics etc.) have to get along,
but whether this pragmatism is a necessary element of scientific method I
am not so sure.

  Some cladists seem to
>want to name a lot more nodes than others.  Just adds to my impression that
>cladists can be just as arbitrary as eclecticists,

Since there is no imperative for members of a particular lable to have
identical views, their differences of opinion do not necessarily translate
into their being arbitrary.

and that some kind of
>reconciliation is imperative if we are ever going to see some lessening of
>this endless bickering, so that systematics can become more productive and

As mentioned above with respect to political compromise, I do not see the
open-ended debate among research programs as necessarily being
unproductive. Endless bickering seems to be an integral component of the
scientific method and practice. The bickering on this subject on this list
I have found to be informative and interesting (so I am glad there is a Ken
Kinman to disagree with cladists), and I would rather have the bickering
than not - although bickering is not the adjective I would use.

Since I am a proponent of a particular label, and one that is in minority
use, I would not look for a political reconciliation with the alternatives
in biogeography.

John Grehan

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