PhyloCode (was: Species as "Hypotheses")

Ken Kinman kinman2 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jul 12 09:58:48 CDT 2004


Richard wrote:
     For the most part, I've given up trying to argue on this list why I, as someone who would never use the Phylocode in my own taxonomic career, can at least understand why a multi-point definition of taxa makes MUCH more sense if you're trying to stabilize and make objecting taxon concept circumscriptions.  I do not know what motivates the Phylocode proponents, so I can't comment on arrogance.  But I don't understand how you can say that something could be short-sighted now, but less so 50 years from now.  It seems to me that developing a system to accommodate the needs of taxonomic definitions fifty years from now is the opposite of short-sighted.  "Ahead of its time", perhaps.  But not short-sighted.
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My comment:
     Just to clarify---a system which fails to accomodate paraphyly will (in my opinion) ALWAYS be short-sighted (today, as well as 50 years from now).  What WILL be less short-sighted 50 years from now (if not sooner) is the appropriate choice of anchor taxa (how many and which ones).   Just one particularly glaring example which divides even phylocode proponents is whether it is appropriate to use a bird as one of the anchors of various theropod dinosaur taxa.  In effect, birds are being defined as dinosaurs, and this kind of short-sighted rigidity will be even more dangerous when applied to groups that are more poorly known.

     Beyond that level of arrogance is the broader conflict between their system and the Linnaean system, especially the brazen redefinition of taxon names that have quite different (often paraphyletic) circumscriptions with long periods of historical usage (Reptilia, Amphibia, Sarcopterygii, Dinosauria, just to name a few).  Even our own discussions on this list with moderate phylocodists turned into a stalemate over names such as these.  Then there are the immoderate phylocodists that clearly want to replace the Linnaean system, not live in harmony with it.

     In theory, I am not completely opposed to the idea of taxa with multiple anchors, but the PhyloCode approach is a disaster in the making, and it threatens all of us who are travelling along a shared taxonomic highway.  Their brand of stability seems overly rigid and unyielding---premature at best, and certainly not ahead of its time.
                ------ Ken Kinman




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