Stegocephalia and Clado-Speak

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 14 03:08:58 CST 2000

     I really have no difficulty whatsoever with cladistic classification,
and my classifications are more cladistic than not.  So I am not surprised
in the least that students find them intuitive and useful----I do too.
     However, I do think the ingrained notion that "strictly" cladistic
classifications (cladifications) are the only way to go is shortsighted.  An
occasional "paraphyletic" cut in the continuum of life is not only useful,
but essential, and even unavoidable in any truly comprehensive
classification.  Strict cladists can avoid paraphyly by restricting their
viewpoint to certain groups of taxa, or even suggest (as some have done)
that living and extinct taxa not be analyzed together (some even proposing
they be classified separately).  As for the "Arizona" Tree of Life, I think
it is a patchwork in need of a major refurbishing.  Parts of it are quite
good, but to say it truly "modern" isn't something I would call it in its
present state.  And from the direction it is heading, I don't see it getting
a lot better (more information, but also more confusion).
    I think biology will lose something very valuable if we begin teaching
that early "Stegocephalians" (rather than early Amphibians) evolved to live
on land (just as an example).   Replacing four tetrapod classes (Amphibia,
Reptilia, Aves, Mammalia) with a cladistic and ever-expanding laundry-list
(of smaller and smaller clades)---you can't see the forest for the trees
(pun intended).  Clado-Speak threatens to widen the gulf between the
biological community and society at large (a trend we certainly don't want
to encourage).
     The handwriting has been on the wall for a long time, and I believe we
need to confront the problem now, before it gets any worse.  If that means I
fail to "win myself some friends", so be it.  I call them like I see them,
and it will indeed be interesting to see which way the "field moves" in the
long run.
                      --------Ken Kinman
P.S.  I don't think that I am cladophobic at all (although I have been
called that), but I do think many strict cladists have been conditioned to
be paraphylophobic.   It's really a shame, because many of them will resist
improved classificatory methodologies, even when they do become better
>From: Thomas DiBenedetto <TDibenedetto at DCCMC.ORG>
>Reply-To: Thomas DiBenedetto <TDibenedetto at DCCMC.ORG>
>Subject: Re: Mammalia; Stegocephalia; Amniota
>Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 18:08:11 -0500
>Ken kinman wrote:
>I definitely hope everyone goes to the "Arizona" Tree of Life
>project, and sees what a confusing mess one sees for the Amniota.  And
>there see how Amniota fits into their treatment of Tetrapoda (or should I
>say "Stegocephalia").  It's an even worse mess, and I've been studying such
>phylogenies for years.  Pity the unfortunate typical student (college or
>high school) who wonders what this all means.
>Dear ken,
>         I am going to try to win myself some friends by not rising to your
>bait. Suffice it to say that such phrases as "making a mess of things" or
>"incomprehensible" are highly subjective. One persons mess in anothers
>obvious order. I would hope that you accept that part of your difficulty in
>accepting cladistic classification is that they differ from some deeply
>ingrained notions you have in your own mind. That may or may not be
>problematical on a larger scale. In any case, it has been my experience,
>the experience of many with whom I have discussed this, that students have
>very little difficulty grasping cladistic classifications, and actually
>them far more intuitive. Of course, they dont have a lot of paraphyletic
>baggage to tote around.
>Anyway, it is not for us as individuals to decide this; all we can do is
>make our cases and see which way the field moves. I'm off on an expedition
>for a few weeks, so I wont be able to follow up.
>Tom DiBenedetto
>tdib at
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