Paraphyly=mistakes? (There's the rub)

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 8 11:31:15 CST 2002

     Tom says that paraphyletic groups are "mistakes".   As Shakespeare
would say, there's the rub.  You completely misrepresent our position,
because Ashlockian-Mayrian eclecticists also classify according to branching
order ---but we consider it simplistic and detrimental to classify ONLY
according to branching order (especially since "true" branching orders can
only be approximately inferred from presently available evidence).  Ashlock
fully understood that this was the central issue that would split the
biological community down the middle, and if his advice had been followed,
we wouldn't have the schism we have today.
     He realized that basing classification ONLY on branching order (with no
reflection of other information, such as divergence) was just as arbitrary,
and that swinging the pendulum so far in that direction would inevitably
create all the problems we are beginning to face now (and which phylocode
will exacerbate).   Traditional eclectic classification practices certainly
needed reform and more precision, but not the extreme swing toward strict
     Ashlock fought (mostly in vain) to prevent the semantic spin-doctoring
that would lump paraphyletic and polyphyletic together as
"non-monophyletic", as though they are equally bad.  If you want precision
in terminology for character states, fine.  But it suddenly struck me
yesterday that strict cladists are making an exception when it comes to the
precision of the term "holophyly", because it would expose the vulnerability
and arbitrariness of their own philosophy (ONLY branching order is good).
Too much of a good thing always creates a deterimental imbalance.  And it is
inconsistent and unfair to be precise only when it supports your viewpoint
(especially when it is based on one type of information, to the exclusion of
other types).
     Unfortunately Ashlock was perhaps too avant garde and clearly thinking
about what would happen in the future.  If it weren't for all the semantic
"smoke and mirrors", we could begin to see just how much foresight he had
and how unfairly he was treated.  Eventually I think this will become quite
evident in hindsight, even to strict cladists (and remember that Ashlock was
a strong advocate of cladistic "analysis").
            ------ Ken Kinman

Send and receive Hotmail on your mobile device:

More information about the Taxacom mailing list