Blaming the victim (the Linnaean System)

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 6 15:38:55 CST 2003

Dear All,
     The problem with higher categories is that we already have way too many
of them these days (and of course, strict cladists want to insert many, many
more with taxon names even most biologists don't recognize or alter the
meaning of those we do recognize).  Taxon names in the basic categories
(Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order) are generally recognizable to most
biologists (and knowledgeable non-biologists as well), and we need that
framework more than ever.
      That's why I made those categories the core of my system (with the
option of using some intermediate categories if needed).  Between the
extremes of zero higher categories and huge numbers of higher categories,
this has always seemed like a happy medium to me.  As Doug pointed out,
higher taxa are a method (long successfully used) to universally communicate
broad relationships, and some minimal indication of higher categories will
continue to be useful to a lot of people (biologists and non-biologists
    In my opinion, it is only "baggage" if it is excessive.  Strict cladism
has generated the bulk of that excess (and yet they are the ones who usually
complain the loudest that the Linnaean System is inadequate to handle it).
It's not the fault of the "tool" if it not used properly and in moderation,
and it seems high time an influential clique of American zoologists (in
particular) accept the blame for the mess they've created instead of blaming
the victim and then accelerate their own immoderate behavior.
      Sorry Fred, but a bit of grumping seemed appropriate here.  Blaming
the victim (the Linnaean System and its moderate number of higher
categories) just doesn't make sense to me, and that such attacks have become
ever more frequent is a cause for concern.  Very much like this increasing
tendency to downplay the successes of morphology and overly shift too many
eggs into the molecular basket.  It's just too elitist, wasteful,
short-sighted, and generally immoderate.
          ------ Sincerely,
                     Ken Kinman
>From: Doug Yanega <dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU> Reply-To: Doug Yanega
><dyanega at POP.UCR.>EDU> To: TAXACOM at USOBI.ORG Subject: Re: "types" - was
>Barcoding (animal) life Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2003 16:06:59 -0800
>Fred Schueler wrote:
>>* I've been grumped at before for saying this - but the Aristotelian,
>>non-Darwinian, baggage that goes with Linnaean nomenclature is the higher
>>categories. Leave them off a classification and what have you lost?
>The ability to communicate. Even the Dewey >Decimal System has higher
>categories to >help people find things.
>>Anybody who recognizes the names will >>have a feeling for what the taxa
>>are, and >>for others they're just steps in the >>hierarchy, even if not
>>decorated with >>"Subtribe" or "Superfamily."
>I respectfully beg to differ - STRONGLY. >Any non-expert in a taxonomic
>group needs >- REALLY *needs* - that hierarchical >framework if they are to
>ever figure out >what something is, or learn how to tell >what things are.
>There is no one "master >key" of all life on Earth that lets you go >from
>random unidentified organism down to >species. Keys work hierarchically -
>you go >from one key in one resource to another >more refined key published
>in an entirely >different resource, to another, to >another, until finally
>you get down to a >key that IDs species - and you MUST have >labels for
>those steps in the hierarchy, >because the information and the tools
> >involved in retrieving that information >are *necessarily* hierarchic and
>always >will be. When one person calls something a >family and another
>calls the same taxon a >subfamily it's confusing, yes, but it >doesn't mean
>the entire hierarchic >approach should be thrown out!
>>   If we're going to have appendices attached to the names of taxa, >>it
>>seems that there are three options: >>overall phenetic difference from the
>> >>sister group, overall
>genetetic difference from the sister >group, and date of origin.
>Those latter two are NOT options for >general use across all taxa. Again,
>not >every taxon in existence is something we >can get a genetic sequence
>for, and it's >entirely unrealistic to expect taxonomy to >*ever* use
>genetics as a foundation; it >can only be an *adjunct*, another tool in
> >the systematist's kit, since it can only >be applied to a certain subset
>of the >taxasphere. Molecular taxonomy is great, I >admit, and I encourage
>and assist >colleagues who pursue it, but it's not >some magic pipeline to
>the Almighty that >is going to answer all our prayers, or >bring the
>blindly stumbling morphologists >into the light of day, and we certainly
> >cannot, in any way, make it mandatory >*anywhere* in the systematic
>process. Use >whatever analogy you like: cart before the >horse, tail
>wagging the dog, etc., but >it's the same in the end.
>Sincerely, --
>Doug Yanega

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