Cladistics and "Eclecticism"

Barry M. OConnor bmoc at UMICH.EDU
Wed Feb 6 15:14:48 CST 2002

At 7:49 AM -0600 2/6/02, Thomas Lammers wrote:
>At 10:21 AM 2/6/02 +1000, Dave Walter wrote:
Dave: >>>OK, hypotheses testable under an accepted set of rules with all
the data available for scrutiny.
Thomas: >Accepted by whom?  "The People Who Matter"?   I and many other
>taxonomists do not accept one or more of the "rules" of cladistics, on the
>grounds they fail to adequately represent biological facts and thus
>reality. ...
Dave: >>As I recall, the previous methodologies relied more on political
power and ability to intimidate than data.
Thomas: >My, isn't THAT a  cheap shot!  Is that how you win all your
arguments, by
>playing loose and fast with the facts?  I'm afraid it seems inconsistence
>with your avowed devotion to data.  I really do not recall *ever* reading
>of any "taxonomy thugs" roughing up recalcitrant botanists who failed to
>swear allegience to Engler & Prantl...
One of the positive aspects of cladistics is its reliance on data and
avoidance of "personal classifications."  I was just reading today a recent
paper by a famous "authority" who has published over 1,000 papers.  This
individual clearly follows traditional/classical/eclectic methods.  In this
paper, the author discusses two genera, one of which he had named some
years ago that was distinguished from an older genus on the basis of
"A/not-A" character differences. In the new paper, he notes how similar
these two genera are, but does not question their "generic status".  He
neglects to cite or even mention  another author who actually had the nerve
to place this author's generic name in synonymy with the older one some 10
years ago.  I don't know if there is really any difference between being
"roughed up" and simply ignored in this context.
        The problem with eclecticism as it has been discussed on this list
is that once the phylogeny has been hypothesized, there appear to be no
rules, only personal preference, in deciding which taxa belong to "A" and
which to "not-A."  Dave is correct that for some taxa, where there are few
"authorities" left, MY CLASSIFICATION is often the only classification.
Users, such as database managers, typically take the last published effort
as the "current taxonomy" without regard to how it was produced, so
although physical violence a la Cope & Marsh has largely been eschewed
among practicing systematists, the rule of "authority" still figures into
the equation. - Barry

So many mites, so little time!
Barry M. OConnor
Professor & Curator             phone: (734) 763-4354
Museum of Zoology               FAX: (734) 763-4080
University of Michigan          e-mail: bmoc at
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079  USA

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