Blaming the victim (the Linnaean System)

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Feb 7 04:47:45 CST 2003

Dear Fred and others,
      My view is that strict cladism started travelling down a certain road
back in the 1970's (centered at the AMNH Ivory Tower) with an unrealistic
and utopian vision that the best "classification" approach was a Hennigian
system of nested subsets that really had no upper limits to constrain the
numbers of those subsets.  I have to admit that I was initially attracted to
this approach, at least before I looked at its philosophical underpinnings
and future consequences more carefully.
      The real problem with this cul-de-sac is that the reality of paraphyly
is both denied and worse yet forbidden.  Even Hennig himself realized that
cladistic analysis was based on the illusion that sister groups are "real".
It's a convenient and generally workable methodological assumption for most
cladistic analyses, but it has been a disaster when converted into purely
cladistic classifications.  Funded and encouraged by like-minded government
officials, this movement has taken on the typical American steam-roller
approach that effectively starves the competition and shoves its mandate
down everyone's throat.
     There is no credible philosophical or scientific reason to believe that
species (and the higher taxa they give rise to) are not real paraphyletic
entities.  That paraphyly is unreal or unnatural is simply an illogical
extension of a Hennigian methodology for cladistic analysis, and the result
is that people like Peter Ashlock were harshly and unjustifiably criticized
for resisting a movement down such a path that would inevitably lead to the
mess we have today.
     Ultimately strict cladism will suffer a series of embarrassing
failures, and my main concern is that it will not only reflect badly on more
moderate cladistic classification approaches (such as my own or Kent
Carpenter's), but will severely damage the potential for improved cladistic
analytic methodologies (which is where the Hennigian approach can make its
most long-lasting contributions).
     I have already predicted where some of these major failures will occur.
  Lophotrochosa could easily be ten times more paraphyletic than Reptilia,
and such a  level of paraphyly is more than worthless, it's very damaging.
And look for bacterial phylogenies and Three Domain Trees to be shaken and
then rerooted, beginning with the release of the Gloeobacter genome this
year (I've been anxiously awaiting that for several years now).  Cladistic
analyses for Mollusca may have to be totally redone (and oddly enough, it is
molecular evidence that have been ignored and "explained away" on that
front).  And the theropod to bird transition is so racked with homoplastic
uncertainty and backtracking that dinosaurology is still vulnerable in this
area as well (although thankfully it is a discipline a little more disposed
to correct its errors quickly and then push forward).   Will I have a better
prediction rate than Croizat---- only time will tell.  But I still think
some panbiogeographers ignore the importance of Antarctica at their peril,
and are overly concerned by the fear of circular reasoning.  Circular
reasoning is far more problematic in other areas (where it is
underestimated, rather than overestimated).
     As I have said before, zoology is going to suffer the most severe
repercussions of the unfortunate experiment in strict cladism.  PhyloCode,
which is even opposed by many prominent cladists, is hopefully DOA.  And
hopefully sooner (rather than later) we will finally abandon this
cul-de-sac, and get back to that "road less travelled", which has been much
ostracized for over 30 years now.  Botany has taken a road somewhat in
between and has far less backtracking to do.  Good for them!
              ------ Ken Kinman
P.S.  Fred, I think the non-expert should continue to be aware that Class
Insecta is within Phylum Arthropoda.  Most insect-mimics seem to be
chelicerates, and some chelicerate-mimics are insects.  And the inevitable
conclusion that insects are just the biggest group of terrestrial crustacean
descendants is becoming more and more apparent all the time.  Linnaeus just
doesn't get the credit he deserves these days, especially when one considers
the times in which he lived.  That his Insecta was later restricted in scope
does nothing to detract from his ability to discern natural groups at a very
earlier date.  We stand on his shoulders and should not be stabbing him in
the back as many strict cladists have been inclined to do.
>From: "Frederick W. Schueler" <bckcdb at ISTAR.CA>
>Reply-To: "Frederick W. Schueler" <bckcdb at ISTAR.CA>
>Subject: Re: Blaming the victim (the Linnaean System)
>Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 13:57:53 -0500
>Ken Kinman wrote:
> > The problem with higher categories is that we already have way too many
> > of them these days
> >  Between the extremes of zero higher categories and huge numbers of
> > higher categories,
> > this has always seemed like a happy medium to me.
>* well, if one could make it stick - but I bet that when you're dealing
>wtih folks who call themselves 'system'-atists you're going to have a
>lot of trouble convincing them to leave numerous un-named categories (or
>branchings) between one named category and another.
>and Doug Yanega wrote:
> >  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!
>* I don't have anything against hierarchy, just the imposition of
>arbitrary categories at traditional points on the hierarchy. When I
>don't include categories in systematic lists nobody has ever expressed
>bewilderment because they need to know if Turtles are an order or a
>class (it's the absence of a paraphyletic Reptilia that may bewilder
>Your non-expert doesn't go to the hierarchy of category names, he goes
>to the hierarchy of names.  I've never seen a library with a shelf
>labelled 'keys to genera.' Categories only figure at the lower end of
>titles of keys, "A key to the genera of x-iformes of y-bekistan"  - the
>higher end is always marked by the *name* of the group being identified.
>Say the non-expert has found something he thinks is an Insect - he
>doesn't look for "phyla, subphyla, or classes of things" (since we can't
>be sure from decade to decade which the Insecta may be) he looks for a
>key to the Insects, checks that his specimen fits the diagnosis of the
>group, and keys his way down to whatever level that key peters out for
>his particular specimen. Then he looks for a key to the, say,
>Staphylinidae of his particular region - and so on until he's identified
>the creature to the level he wants, or gives up in confusion.
>But my real objection to categories is the philosophical one: they don't
>really indicate anything, since there are no phenetic/genetic/age
>criteria for them, while it is possible to imagine replacements that
>would convey some such information.
>And to pick up a recent theme, such tags would be falsifiable scientific
>statements for the study of which one could seek funding. "Applicant
>seeks $35,000 in order to determine if Testudinata is an order or a
>class," vs "Applicant seeks $350,000 to improve current concepts of the
>age of origin of the Testudinata and their relatedness to other
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