Summary of our problems (and the future)

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 14 11:06:43 CST 2002

Thomas Lammers wrote:
    Give it up, Ken.  Insightful souls have been screaming that The Emperor
Has No Clothes for years, but no one listens.   ...   That makes it doubly
irritating when we are told that only by cladistifying can we be
     Sometimes I do "give it up" for a while in frustration.  But I feel
compelled to return to it periodically, hoping that I might change a few
minds, and that someday it might reach a critical mass (of sorts) and
finally begin to snowball.
     Cladistics is a very useful tool, as is phylogenetic classification up
to a point.  The cladistic paradigm therefore naturally snowballed in the
70's and 80's, but unfortunately it simply snowballed too far (too much of a
good thing can quickly turn bad).  My hope is that we can slowly snowball it
back into balance, but we can't do that unless we show strict cladists that
we aren't going to go back to the days of non-explicit paraphyly.  The
pendulum needs to be swung back, but slowly so that we don't lose any of the
advantages which cladistics has to offer.
     I agree with Thomas DiBenedetto that there is one "true singular
history of taxic divergence", and we are all struggling to continue (as best
we can) to understand and communicate about the various parts of that
"Universal Tree of Life".  However, strict cladism has become so consumed
with the one aspect (branching) of that tree, that it has lost sight of
other important aspects of the tree (such as paraphyly), so much so that
they either deny the reality of paraphyly or its utility (or both).
      As frustating as it continues to be, one of my major goals is to draw
attention to these imbalances and misconceptions, and hope that some kind of
cladisto-eclectic middle-ground approach will eventually emerge--- a
cooperative and synergistic union of the best of both approaches.  The
alternative (continuing the schism like the Hatfields vs. the McCoys) seems
to me a sure recipe for continued bickering, enormous inefficiency and
wasted time, and hard feelings.
     The very heart of my approach is twofold:  (1) convince traditional
eclecticists to begin explicitly labelling paraphyletic groups and generally
putting more cladistic precision into their classifications; and (2)
convince the strict cladists to meet them halfway by accepting a modicum of
paraphyly, and stop insisting that paraphyletic groups are unnatural,
unscientific, or even totally "unreal".  I am convinced that there are
already a number of young "Ashlocks" out there ready to pursue new moderate
approaches along these lines, and I encourage everyone to pay close
attention as they emerge into prominence.
           Pep talk over,
                      Ken Kinman

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