Higher categories

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 10 14:56:50 CST 2003

Dear All,
     I pretty much agree with Don's viewpoint with one major exception
(unless I misunderstood his statement).  I cannot agree that category names
above Order are mainly for the convenience of experts (although that is what
strict cladism could cause them to become, if we let it).  Perhaps he was
referring to this unfortunate direction in which taxonomy has been drifting.
     At Class level we have formal taxa for mammals, birds, reptiles,
amphibians, star fish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, corals, jellyfish,
dicots, monocots, conifers, true ferns, horsetails, club mosses, true
mosses, diatoms, brown algae, chitons, snails, cephalopods, polychaetes,
earthworms, leeches, insects, millipedes, centipedes, trilobites, barnacles,
arachnids, and others.
     At phylum level, we have bryophytes, ferns, conifers, flowering plants,
sponges, comb jellies, cnidarians, echinoderms, chordates, molluscs,
arthropods, red algae, green algae, and even cyanobacteria (blue-green
algae).  And most biology students are acquainted with the basic five
kingdoms (prokaryotes, protists, plants, animals, and true
"fungi")----although many of those who are now being primarily taught the
Three Domains will likely be confused for a long time to come.
     Warning: this final paragraph is a rant.  The two Classes which have
been most mutilated by strict cladism (so far) are the amphibians and
reptiles, because of their obvious paraphyly, the familiarity people have
with tetrapods (and chordates in general), and herpetology is at the very
epicenter of strict cladism.  But the traditional Amphibia and Reptilia will
continue in usage in spite of attempts to "cladify" them, not only because
the cladistic "experts" can't agree among themselves on their conflicting
redefinitions, but also because it is basically elitist semantics that rubs
most people (including large numbers of scientists) the wrong way.  Pedantry
may impress in the short term, but it eventually backfires.   Scientifically
precise classifications are possible without destroying their overall
utility for everyone else.  This is particularly true of higher categories.
            ------- Ken Kinman

>From: Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU
>Reply-To: Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU
>Subject: Higher categories
>Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2003 14:16:17 +1100
>A current thread has been debating the utility or other wise of NAMED
>categories. The dividing lines are no doubt vague, involving names with
>"open texture", using multiple, implicit criteria; but this is true of much
>of our language. In any case, it has always seemed to me that the
>category of Family often represents just about the upper level of
>differentiation (phenetic gap) recognised in common language by the layman;
>mosquitoes, blowflies, ants, bees, grasshoppers, hawks, gulls, dogs, cats,
>gumtrees, orchids, etc. This can drift up to Suborder or Order - moths,
>butterflies, caddis flies, beetles (perhaps; folk do recognise scarabs and
>Christmas beetles); or down towards subfamily (hoverflies) or even genus
>(bullants, horses). Such drift is probably driven by special familiarity
>(horses, bullants), or more usually by expert taxonomists needing
>"categorial space". The level of Genus is interesting, as pretty well
>entirely devised by the experts ; but again, it seems to me that it
>represents the first decent "moat" (phenetic  gap) as species are clustered
>upward. Above the Order, categories are almost entirely for convenience of
>Our traditional system has areas of imprecision that no doubt irritate a
>certain type of mind; but it is just this kind of flexibility that makes
>language the remarkable tool that it is. And let's not forget that our
>classifications are just that: a language, expressing a theory of the
>Don Colless
>Div of Entomology, CSIRO, Canberra,
>don.colless at csiro.au <mailto:don.colless at csiro.au>
>Tuz li munz est miens envirun

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