Understanding evolution problems

Michael Ivie mivie at GEMINI.OSCS.MONTANA.EDU
Thu Mar 4 12:42:50 CST 2004

This delightful discussion recapitulates those of the Scala naturae
adherents that objected to the errors in Lamarck's discovery of evolution,
the Earth Centered group that objected to the fad of Galilean mobilists,
the Flat Earth League, the stabilist diatribes against the crazies
that proposed continental drift, and those that objected to complex cords
in Baroque music.  All of these and many other deadenders died expecting
to have everyone come back to their view while the young turks burned in
hell.  In the end all these r eactionary "controversies" were solved the
same way this one will -- eventually all the fuddy duddies living
in past will die off, and everyone will laugh that they ever existed.

Whenever a group of young turks (in this case, phylogenetisists) overturn
an established apple cart (the Mayrian "evolutionary" taxonomists and
Pheneticists), there is a predictable objection from the old guard, and
always a few of the next generation who hang on to the old ideas for some
reason or other (invested, slow, lack of imagination, viserally
conservative, intellectually infelxible, or whatever).  This is how
science has and always will progress.  However, when someone finds
themselves in this situation, they should really reexamine their stance.
We can use the examples of our greatest scientists to find our way.  Look
at Charles Michener, who moved beyond the point where he was invested,
into the new and superior paradigm that replaced the old one, and is
universally revered.

As I teach it, good taxonomists are very, very valuable, but not all
good taxonomists are systematists.  Some good systematists are not good
taxonomists.  However, all real modern systematists are phylogeneticists.
Not all phylogeneticists are strict cladists.  For instance, my optimal
solution is a monophyletic classification, but I recognize that if the
sister-group of all the rest of life is a single species, and single
species cannot by themselves constitute a monophyletic group, then the
rules need to be bent to make it work.  I do teach that there are other
views, and that they are wrong.

And Dr. Greham, If all the really smart people reviewing your proposal
think it is bunk, perhaps it is not they that are wrong?  So says Occam's
razor.  Parsimony may not always be right, but it is worth thinking about.
Remember, evolutionary studies show that pathways that only take root and
diversify in isolation on small isolated islands are not usually very well
adapted when placed into global competition.  They should be maintained
as examples of a different path, and valued as examples of evolutionary
diversity, but never confused with something really useful.

Our system of reviews by NSF and other granting agencies have proven very
good at rewarding successful paradigm challenges, and also very good at
recognizing bunk.  There are rare exceptions, but the exceptions prove the

OK, let the attacks begin.


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