Science, real or otherwise - back to a touch o' taxonomy

Eric Dunbar erdunbar at YAHOO.COM
Wed Apr 4 14:36:12 CDT 2001

How about talking about the natural sciences? (as opposed to the social s.
or the religious s. (into which I lump parts of psychology because their
principles are derived from assumption, and their terminology is shrouded in
mysticism)). That might allow for a little more specific attack of each
other's methods ;)

As for the thread at hand:
I suspect the following has been part of this thread, or a similar thread
sometime in the distant past.

(1) is there a *need* now for a strict application of a set of rules to
apply to taxa derived from phylogenetic hypotheses in
nomenclature/systematics? Does the existing [molecular informed] taxonomy do
such a bad job of providing a framework in which to work? Is conservation
biology harmed by not having an objective measure of what is a species?

(2) do we have enough phylogenetic information yet to realistically build a
FUNCTIONING taxonomy which does not allow room for personal judgement, and
relies solely upon the phylogenies.

e.g. 1, elm trees are a natural grouping which arguably are a genus
containing distinct species (18 - 30 (max 45) spp.), nearly all of whom can
naturally hybridise with each other or can be forced to hybridise, *and* set
seed *and* germinate (including the tetraploid Ulmus americana with a
diploid), and some of the hybrids even set seed (though, being trees its
rather hard to do many crossing experiments in one researcher's lifetime).
2, There are *thousands* of species in the genus Carex (sedges [for
non-botanists... a grass-like plant]) world-wide. Some can hybridise with
others, some cannot.

(PS what about such taxononomic nightmares such as Crataegus? :)

Does this suggest that Carex are not a good candidate for lumping as a
genus, but something higher, or should elms be classed in sub-generic

I'm sure this won't be resolved for a while yet. With any luck it'll happen
before I retire (which'll be a few years)!

Eric Dunbar, MSc candidate, Dep't of botany, University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

> From: christian thompson <cthompson at SEL.BARC.USDA.GOV>
> Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2001 09:13:28 -0400
> Subject: Science, real or otherwise
> It is as John has declared a matter of definitions, but I do believe most
> readers of TAXACOM know that there are different kinds of activities
> involved in Systematics / Taxonomy / Nomenclature. And while under a OEM
> definition anything can be a SCIENCE, but I used "real" to distinguish that
> "Science" Karl Popper et alia speaks of which involves observations,
> hypotheses, etc., about the world, from nomenclature which is more of a
> communication / language process for dissemination of that "real" science.
> Sorry that that has caused confusion for some.
> So, Thomas, yes anything and everything (including religion) can be "real"
> science by OEM definition. OK, nomenclature is "real" science.
> Smile :-) Now return to the topic of whether, to quote E.O. Wilson, this is
> the time to re-write the operational manual for Titanic or should we just
> use the old-standby Linnaean nomenclature and get on with describing the
> disappearing biota or should we fight some more over "real" science. :-)
> Smile
> Oh, well ...
>>>> Thomas Lammers <lammers at VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU> 04/04 8:37 AM >>>
> At 12:10 PM 4/4/01 +0100, it was written:
>> Chris Thompson's statement that nomenclature is not real science) is
>> confusing nomenclature with taxonomy/systematics. I agree with Chris
>> that nomenclature is not real science
> Excerpts from SCIENCE, in the Oxford English Dictionary (
> If someone would please point out to me just where nomenclature fails
> these qualifications to be "real science", I will accept the
> contention.  Otherwise, I must consider the put-down to be mere academic
> snobbishness.

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