Mallophaga, futility of zero-paraphyly, and Iowa botanical collections

Ken Kinman kinman2 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Mar 21 22:36:27 CST 2004


Dear All:
      I was somewhat surprised (but I guess I should have expected it) to see the the Tree of Life Website has abandoned Order Mallophaga (chewing lice) since it is paraphyletic with respect to Order Anoplura (sucking lice).  The only problem is that Order Psocoptera (booklice) is paraphyletic with respect to these parasitic lice (molecular data recently confirmed this).  So the next step will be to split up the Psocoptera.  Only trouble is that Psocodea (booklice + parasitic lice) will no doubt be paraphyletically derived from yet another group, and so on....  Then serial paraphyly at some level back to crustaceans and ultimately to the beginning of life (only extinction, and thus lack of information, make cladistic division useful at certain points).  The allout war on paraphyly is thus an exercise in futility, and total cladification of classification is detrimental and simplistic nonsense.
      So why should we abandon Order Mallophaga just because it is paraphyletic?  Because strict cladists salivate at the sound of the paraphyletic "bell"?  Such conditioning is understandable given governmental rewards (grants) for such behavior, so maybe it is the grant reviewers that we need to educate and reform, and then maybe things would begin to slowly change.  Unfortunately such things have a snow-balling inertia which takes years or decades to remedy (like certain military helicopters that have an embarrassing tendency to crash).  In all such cases, looking the other way just means the problems will continue or even get worse.  A minority benefits, but a lot of others get hurt as a result.
     By the way, did the governmental efforts to consolidate botanical collections in Iowa finally succeed in spite of widespread protests?  It would be sad but not particularly surprising.  Those in Washington D.C. who hold an inordinate amount of power (especially over the "purse strings") need an occasional reminder that consolidation, putting all their eggs into too few baskets, and alienating a lot of people in the process----well, it's going to catch up with them eventually and history will not look kindly on their failure to evaluate the long-term consequences.
                 ------- Ken Kinman




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