Paraphyly is real (+ "strict cladist" defined)

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Tue Jan 15 06:51:56 CST 2002

> If you think paraphyly is real, or if you think
> paraphyletic groups should be recognized even though they are obviously
> artificial (and y'all seem to go back and forth between the two
> justifications based on which argument you are losing at the moment)

I can only assume that "y'all" applies to Ken and myself, as we seem to be
the ones "losing" arguments with you....

But if you've paid attention to our respective postings, you'll see that he
and I have each been internally consistent within our own respective
positions. One of the things we share in this context is a disagreement with
your statements. If you look more closely, however, you'll see that he and I
actually disagree with each other on one or two things, the most significant
of which being the preferred solution to the mess that overzealous
application of cladistic interpretation to alterations in Linnaean
nomenclature has left the broader field of taxonomy (and biology) in. That
there is a "mess", and with regard to the principal cause of this mess, Ken
and I seem to be in close agreement.

> would suffice. A concept (paraphyly), which is explicitly a grouping that
> excludes some descendants, is obviously artificial in a classification
> system based on the principle of recognizing natural descent
> systems.

...and that is exactly what I perceive to be the primary flaw in your
position -- this assumption that the "classification system" (which we can
only interpret as the Linnaean nomenclatural system) is necessarily "based
on the principle of recognizing natural descent" -- when in fact, Linnaeus
probably had NO CLUE about the concept of natural descent.  If there had
been some meeting or some officially recognized proclamation in the years
since Darwin that stated unambiguously that, "Henceforth, the scientific
nomenclatural system shall strictly reflect the 'best' hypothesized
phylogeny of the moment" -- then maybe I wouldn't have much of a case to
make.  But the reality is that nobody did this (or if they did, I've
certainly never heard of it).  This transition in the purpose of the
classification system can be seen either as a movement to bring taxonomy
into the post-nineteenth-century era; or it can be seen as one faction of
biology hijacking a system that has for centuries been shared by all. I can
probably guess what your view is, and I imagine by now that you can guess
what my view is as well.

Overall, it's been fun, and I'm glad these topics get re-hashed
periodically. It's important to take readings of perspectives within the
taxonomic community from time to time ( least the ones subscribed
to this list who are willing and have the time to assert those
perspectives). But, it is really starting to look like we're bumping up
against walls now -- and I  (like others, I suspect) have other things
awaiting my attention.

Thus, unless I read something that really riles me, I'll be stepping down
from the podium.


Richard L. Pyle
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at

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