Paraphyly: the continuing saga

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Wed Jan 16 13:01:27 CST 2002

O.K., this isn't in response to something that riled me, but I just couldn't

> I tell my students than in my
> view, Linnaeus was among the last truly scientific creationists.

Interesting perspective!!  I'd never thought of it that way before, but it
really puts an interesting spin on things: Modern evolutionary systematists
using a classification system initially developed by a creationist!!  This
is just *dripping* with irony!

> It remained for Linnaeus's successors to create the "Linnaean Hierarchy"
> that we enjoy today. I always find it amusing that Linnaeus gets the rap
> for something he didn't do (the formal hierarchy), and the thing he *did*
> do that he is most known for (binomial nomenclature) wasn't his original
> intent.

Thanks for the clarification.  I should probably put less emphasis on
Linnaeus the man, than the nomenclatural system for which he is given

> But because the natural pattern of descent with
> modification is overwhelmingly hierarchic, biologists still use a system
> that is two and a half centuries old, because for the most part it still
> works passably well.

Exactly....but I think the problem is thus: As we are entering a new realm
of systematic biology, where technology has begun to give us access to
information that (potentially, at least) provides much more compelling
insight into "true" evolutionary relationships, the imperfections of the
existing hierarchical system for use as a tool to discuss and represent
those relationships are becoming evident, as manifest by the current

What remains for us (as a community of taxonomists) is the choice of how
best to rectify that situation.  There are several alternate approaches to a
solution, and although it is clear from my postings which one I see as the
best (or perhaps, "least of evils"), I can step back and take a look at the
forest and recognize that each of the main alternatives has it's own
legitimate sets of merits and drawbacks, and the answer remains unclear from
the prespective of the community as a whole.


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