cladism's greatest weakness

Richard Zander rzander at SCIENCEBUFF.ORG
Thu Sep 23 15:30:17 CDT 1999

> Richard Zander wrote:
> >Well, consider: God is in Heaven, the Devil is in Hell,
> >and everything else is "out there." The first two statements are not
> >appropriate subjects for scientific analysis or synthesis, so why is the
> >third?
>Tom DiBennedetto replied:
> Heaven and hell are empirically inaccessable. The real world out there
> is something we can percieve, formulate ideas and hypotheses about, and
> return to test those hypotheses; i.e. we can do science with it.

You can't say that there is a world "out there" (implying some degree of
inaccessibility) then say it is right here, something perceivable. I guess
I'm a skeptic. Reminds me of another switch common in systematics: saying at
the beginning of a paper that a reconstruction is being generated, then
presenting a classification at the end of the paper.

Let's compromise. There are collections in cabinets "out there" around the
corner from my office. I perceive remembering perceiving them a bit ago.
Notice the concious self-referencing which is highly PC and also good
scientifically. I think there is an immense gulf between perceiving species
and hierarchies "out there" and perceiving yourself construing models called
species and heirarchies that help guide action. What happens is that unless,
the distance between guess and by golly is accepted, realist systematicians
begin to believe that the result of their analyses of samples is a direct
and immediate perception of something "out there" or at least a close
approximation of it.

What evidence have I of this? The presentation of one cladogram per result.
Optimization, yes, is a valuable tool, and is the best guide to action -
given no loss upon failure. Is being wrong a loss to science? We have
hundreds of published many of them are somewhat wrong? Very
wrong? How do you tell the difference? A cladogram, in the presentation of
poorly supported detail, is not a reconstruction, which requires
considerable support in the form of reassurance that there are no reasonable
alternatives. This is the realist burden and cladism's greatest weakness.

> I read your paper. I must admit
> that I think it a bit bad form to plug for support of your research
> program at the expense of other scientists. Why not go after redundant
> bombers or milk price supports?

Because I can do something about dubious, expensive non-results in
systematics by arguing here on Taxacom: a form of peer review that allows
dialog, which is good. I believe there is good in modern systematics, but
except for publications using Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo analysis,
present forms of phylogenetic analysis do not provide acceptable
consideration of contrary hypotheses.

Richard H. Zander, Curator of Botany
Buffalo Museum of Science
1020 Humboldt Pkwy
Buffalo, NY 14211 USA
email: rzander at
voice: 716-895-5200 x

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