generic oversplitting (heart of the problem)

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jul 16 22:45:59 CDT 2001

     Excessive oversplitting was admittedly a problem long before cladists
came along, so I obviously don't think they are the only ones who do it.  I
have done my own share of splitting, such as removing scorpions from Class
Arachnidea, disbanding condylarthran ungulates into several separate orders,
dividing Class Gastropodea into 32 orders (which would seem splitting to
some workers, but lumping to others).  In any case, the "messing around" in
gastropod systematics (which you mentioned) probably can't hold a candle to
what I see happening in bacterial classifications.  And the latter has a
profound effect on how we classify organisms at the very highest levels, our
understanding of the origins and metabolic evolution of life, and will
almost certainly have detrimental effects on medicine, agriculture, and
other vital human concerns for decades to come.  In my opinion,
pseudocladism will do far more harm than any paraphyletic grouping ever did.
      In any case, my experience is that cladists have a far larger
percentage of splitters than do traditional eclecticists (although there are
exceptions, as you noted).  They are not only more likely to split taxa, but
  have also split up Linnean ranks into so many splinters that they
eventually can't keep track of them.  Instead of eliminating ranks as they
claim is their goal, seems to me they are simply not going to give the rank
names any more.
      Instead of getting rid of ranks, cladists are opening up
classification to quite the opposite (an unlimited number of ranks), and not
giving them rank names gives the illusion of ranklessness.   Otherwise it
would be much more obvious how split and taxonomically inflated their
classifications tend to get.  And of course branding paraphyly as something
to be reviled and attacked as though such taxa have no immediate common
ancestor (as in polyphyly) is as absurd as it is destabilizing.
      And they want to institutionalize this into a separate Code??  That's
going to work about as well as having two parallel U.S. Constitutions.
Taxonomy is headed for a disastrous backlash, aimed mainly at strict
cladism, but we are all going to feel the effects.  A combination of
complacency and stubbornness seems to ensure that things are going to get
much worse before they get better.  Maybe not the equivalent of a civil war,
but extremely unpleasant nevertheless.  I see this as being one hell of a
messy omelet to make, and unnecessarily so, in that it may end up being like
using a jack-hammer instead of an eggbeater.  Hang on, it's going to be a
bumpy ride.
          ---Sorry to be so pessimistic,   Ken
>From: Barry Roth <barry_roth at>
>To: Ken Kinman <kinman at HOTMAIL.COM>
>Subject: Re: generic oversplitting (heart of the problem)
>Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2001 15:37:38 -0700 (PDT)
>--- Ken Kinman <kinman at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:
> >      However, cladistic splitting has carried this
> > process to a whole new level, which even many
> > scientists see as unnecessary, especially when it
> > involves the dismantling of perfectly good
> > paraphyletic genera.
>There is no such thing!  ;^)
> >So it not surprising that some have tried to
> > circumvent the increased levels of confusion and
> > instability by resorting to common names.
> >      Therefore, I would once again appeal to
> > PhyloCoders that they NOT include generic names
> > during their initial experimentation period (which
> > probably approaching all too quickly for many of
> > us).  Messing around with generic nomenclature
> > prematurely could well make today's level of
> > confusion look mild in comparison
>Ken's coupling of splitting with cladistic taxonomy or
>an interest in phylogenetic nomenclature is
>In my area of specialty, terrestrial gastropods, the
>greatest amount of "messing around" with generic
>nomenclature (proposal of monotypic genera,
>ill-considered splitting of other types) is currently
>being performed by persons whose systematic philosophy
>is not cladistic.  Repair of this mischief will take a
>generation, because there are non-systematists (or
>semi-systematists) out there who will adopt whatever
>name change comes along, in the interest of seeming
>"current," without inspecting its logical
>Excuse me for being a bit pointed; this post touched a
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