Cladistics and "Eclecticism"

Tom Wendt twendt at MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU
Wed Jan 30 09:50:25 CST 2002

Tom DiBenedetto says:
"8- "Important" nodes, or what Denis refers to as "significant gaps", are no
different from anyother node. Their "importance" means nothing more than
that scientists find them to be interesting to discuss, for whatever reason."

There are several separate threads within the recent discussion, and one of
them keeps coming down to the same thing; cladists are interested only in
branching patterns, which they equate with "the history of life."  The
amount and type of evolutionary change that occurs (or doesn't occur) along
the way is apparently of no interest, or at least not worthy of inclusion
in a classification.   Eclecticists, as Ken calls them, feel that amount
and type of change should be included in the classification (in addition to
branching patterns), as difficult as that may be to do in practice.  I
don't think that the discussion is getting any closer to bridging that gap.
Cladists criticize eclecticism for the the lack of "repeatability" etc.,
but that is a methodological criticism and misses the deeper point:  do you
want your classification based on branching patterns only, or on branching
patterns plus amount and direction of evolution?  Just because a strictly
cladistic classification is seemingly easier to erect [at present] in a
supposedly rigorous fashion is no argument, by itself, for its being the
optimal classification to which we should aspire.
Tom Wendt

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