Continued Sarcasm or New Synthesis?

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 3 14:58:42 CDT 2001

Richard and Christian,
     As one who sees the positive potential for cladistic analysis, but on
the other hand seeing the negative potential in purely cladistic
classifications, I try to see it from both sides.
     I think there is good science and bad science on both sides, and quite
a bit of confusing gray in between.  Saying that the cladists have it all
wrong, or that the traditionalists have it all wrong, completely misses the
point that each philosophy has something to offer to a new synthesis (if
only both sides would stop denying that such a synthesis is possible).
     This New Synthesis of the 21st Century, whenever it develops out of the
current taxonomic warfare, will hopefully merge the best of cladistics with
the best of eclecticism, and all the bad stuff (which is what each side
tends to hurl at each other) will be rejected.
     The question is my mind has not been so much "will this happen?", as it
is "WHEN will this happen?".   When I heard about PhyloCode, I certainly saw
it as a setback, but in some ways it may be a blessing in disguise.  After
30 years of stalemate and trench warfare, perhaps a really vigorous battle
isn't such a bad idea if it hastens the kind of synthesis I see coming
      Until then both the cladists and the traditional eclecticists will
each continue to make their own particular kind of mistakes, which the
opposite side will gladly continue to point out, and we continue to muddle
through this "Thirty Years' War" which is well on it's way to a full "Forty
Years' War" or more.
      Both sides have something to contribute.  The problem is that neither
side sees the possibilities of a New Synthesis (some form of
cladisto-eclecticism), and the view that "one side will win and the other
will lose" just prolongs the agony of our increasingly "lose-lose"
situation.  Only a synthesis can result in an eventual "win-win" outcome.
The only question is "when-when" (in 3 years?, 13 years?, 30 years?).  I
don't know the answer, but the sooner the better.

                        ---------Ken Kinman

>From: Richard Zander <rzander at SCIENCEBUFF.ORG>
>Reply-To: Richard Zander <rzander at SCIENCEBUFF.ORG>
>Subject: Re: Real Science => Sarcasm?
>Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2001 13:55:28 -0400
>The rhetoric from cladists is definitely heating up in public forums. Here
>on TAXACOM, below, anyone not following cladism's nonsensical philosophy of
>science is NOT DOING REAL SCIENCE. At the Smithsonian Symposium on the
>Phylocode vs. Linnean Nomenclature just last week, a speaker said, right
>loud, without shame, that "using ranks leads to BAD SCIENCE."
>My (lengthy) reply to him, during the comments period (in front of God and
>E.O. Wilson) was (approximately):
>Speaking of "bad science." Every other scientific discipline has some
>standard method of ensuring rigor and significance of the results. Not once
>has the ess word, statistics, been mentioned at the Symposium, nor is it
>much refereed to except deprecatingly in the cladistic literature over the
>past 30 years. We systematists are, for some reason, proud of our
>statistical innumeracy, but this makes us easy marks for those promoting
>Although optimization methods commonly demonstrate accepted relationships
>"uncontested phylogenies," we expect that better resolution of questionable
>relationships would now be more reliably resolved. It is, however, commonly
>accepted that optimization methods cannot retrieve the true tree if there
>extreme branch length heterogeneity or extreme convergence. Even assuming
>that extreme branch length heterogeneity and extreme convergence is rare,
>the philosophy of cladism that the least falsified, the simplest, and the
>best explanation are acceptable as "results" is ridiculous. Scientists only
>follow parsimony when the alternatives are few and clearly comparatively
>unrewarding as theories - - this is not the case in phylogenetic
>I submit that the absence of acceptable and understandable probabilistic
>branch support measures in cladistic publications over the past 30 years
>renders cladistic results no better than alphabetization for classification
>or flipping a coin for absolute branch order.
>Imagine convincing an actuary or an ecologist to abandon statistics and use
>maximum parsimony and hypothetico-deductivism as method and justification.
>The response of the speaker to my asking what "well supported" means in
>cladistics was to confound methods of alpha taxonomy (every taxonomist must
>judge the degree of support for a classification) with scientific,
>statistical reliability of phylogenetic estimation (what is the chance of
>being wrong?).
>Want more? Check out Deconstructing Reconstruction at
>These comments are directed largely at students, of course, since those who
>have bought into the philosophy gimmick are locked into cladism for better
>or worse.
>Richard H. Zander
>Curator of Botany
>Buffalo Museum of Science
>1020 Humboldt Pkwy
>Buffalo, NY 14211 USA
>email: rzander at
>voice: 716-896-5200 x 351
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "christian thompson" <cthompson at SEL.BARC.USDA.GOV>
>Sent: Friday, March 30, 2001 8:14 PM
>Subject: Real Science => Sarcasm?
> > People have asked whether I was being sarcastic when I used the words
> > science. For those of you who don't know me, permit me to say that I
> > always clearly stated that nomenclature IS NOT SCIENCE. I will now go
> > further and state: Those of us who use Linnaean nomenclature without
> > applying Hennigian grouping and ranking criteria (synapomorphy, age of
> > origin), need to warn their users. They should add the following to
> > classifications:
> >
> > Phylogenetic Warning:
> > Comparing Linnaean Taxa above the species level may be injurious to your
> > Science. Always consult a Systematist first.
> >
> > However, as with cigarettes I suspect those addicted to traditional
> > classifications will pay no attention to our warnings! Despite that,
> > for example, biodiversity assessments based on the number of families or
> > genera or whatever, isn't sound Science. The only really valid
> > are those among sister-groups/clades (ala Mitter et alia). And Brent
> > may also be right about the species level too, as clearly species
> > across the full span of life, from microbes to humans, are not
> > either.
> >
> > So, in short, one of the positive aspects of the PhyloCode is that it
> > attempts to incorporate REAL science into its nomenclature. And that
> > force the others to admit that Linnaean nomenclature is an information
> > retrieval system based on unique keys (names), but beyond that beware of
> > what you attempt to derive from it.
> >
> > So to repeat my original warning:
> >
> > We should not be framing this issue as another paradigm war in which
> > Linnaean nomenclature is going to be massacred* and the Phylocode is
> > to be triumphant. I fought in the evolutionary/Phenetic/Cladistic
> > wars of the 1960s-70s. As a community we all lost. So, today we need to
> > together, recognizing our strengths. Linnaean nomenclature is the
> > of a universal information system for biology. It has changed since
> > to adapt to Darwinian** view of the World and will change more, but it
> > only an information system. Cladistic information is critical for our
> > Science. The PhyloCode is attempt at improving how we communicate that
> > information now (which is cladograms with Linnaean names). I believe it
> > too soon*** to decide even if the PhyloCode is best way to communicate
> > cladistic information, let alone be deciding whether it should REPLACE
> > current information system. However, there is already a positive aspect.
> > focuses attention on Linnaeus' original idea of SEPARATING SCIENCE
> > (taxonomy, diagnoses, etc.) from Nomenclature, words acting as unique
> > information keys for effective communication. How much Science should be
> > built into our  nomenclature? And how?**** Let's address those
> > rather than throwing our lives down in "Linnaeus's Last Stand."
> >
> > * for the non-Americans reading taxacom, Pennisi' title, "Linnaeus's
> > stand," was a take-off on "Custer's last stand," a reference to a battle
> > the Dakotas in 1876 where American Indians slaughtered a troop of
> > soliders. And what she was really trying to say with that allusion I
> > even try to quess.
> >
> > ** Also, don't try to label us as "creationists" because we use
> > nomenclature." "Linnaean" is used out of respect and because of
> > not because the system has remained unchanged, etc.
> >
> > *** Remember it was almost 100 years after the 10th edition of Systema
> > Naturae that the Zoologists finally wrote our first Code (Strickland
> > 1842).
> >
> > **** I will conclude by answering my own questions. The more Science
> > is built into informational system, the more instability there will be
> > Science changes. New characters, intepretations, taxa, etc., will be
> > discovered, etc.  So, let's let the ornithologists and the others who
> > on well-known groups worry about the PhyloCode, and we entomologists can
> > names new species. No need to throw stones at each others (except for
> > :-))
> >
> >
> > F. Christian Thompson
> > Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS, USDA
> > Smithsonian Institution
> > Washington, D. C. 20560-0169
> > (202) 382-1800 voice
> > (202) 786-9422 FAX
> > cthompso at
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