Real Species

Richard.Zander at MOBOT.ORG Richard.Zander at MOBOT.ORG
Wed Apr 14 10:09:13 CDT 2004

There are some interesting philosophy Web sites that discuss realism and
antirealism. I kind of like the latter, because with antirealism you don't
have to worry if something is real or not, just whether the evidence you
have is sufficiently reliable for your to decide to act on it. Our theories
are increasingly "real" in the antirealist sense as they get more reliable
with increasing evidence and as people continue to test them. Thus
antirealism is maybe more scientific than realism in that there is always at
least some stated sense of doubt or skepticism.

Realism as such is of course what we all use as default attitude about the
world as we make everyday decisions. This IS a table. "I think IT will
rain." The problem with using realism as a default in science is that there
is a tendency to KNOW what is real and attribute evidence as "converging on
the truth." Or maybe when one confuses a cladogram with a phylogeny.

Richard H. Zander
Bryology Group
Missouri Botanical Garden
PO Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166-0299
richard.zander at <mailto:richard.zander at>
Voice: 314-577-5180
Fax: 314-577-9595
Bryophyte Volumes of Flora of North America:
Res Botanica:
Shipping address for UPS, etc.:
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4344 Shaw Blvd.
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-----Original Message-----
From: Richard Pyle [mailto:deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG]
Sent: Wednesday, April 14, 2004 3:11 AM
Subject: [TAXACOM] Real Species

Having been without any email for several days (our server was down), my
masochistic tendencies are urging me to both change the subject, and seek
clarification on a topic that is near & dear to me (i.e., here we go

Curtis Clark wrote:

> He was taking my speciation course, and because his major professor at the
> time believed that species were artificial, he believed that, too. I
> pointed out in class that the  course title, "Mechanisms of Speciation",
> implied that species were real, since it was a biology department, not a
> fantasy-writing department. Thus, by teaching the course, I was being
> up-front about where I fell on the argument. I presented what I
> saw as both sides of the evidence.

Could I impose on you to make the case for me that species are "real"?  It
would be helpful if you could begin by defining the words "real" and
"artificial" in this case -- perhaps you could give a synopsis of both sides
of the evidence (alluded to above).

Obviously, organisms are "real" to the extent that anything can be thought
of as "real" -- but harking back to our earlier debate on this list (RE:
"discrete"), I'd like to make sure I understand what you (and others) mean
when you distinguish species as "real" entities, as opposed to "artificial"
ones. The more specific question that I'm interested in is whether
boundaries between species actually exist in nature (independent of our
ability to observe them) and it is our job to discover them; or such
boundaries are (artificially) defined by us as a means to allow more
effective communication.

Bracing myself....


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at

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