lonely Dan Janzen

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Wed Mar 24 14:43:11 CST 2004

Thanks, Robin...

> I have to disagree with this.  The apparent instability, as Rich has said,
> is in part because so much more information is being accumulated at such
> speed.  I maintain that it's not the naming system, but the information
> accumulation and information gaps, that are the problem.  Until/unless the
> "ultimate phylogeny" is figured out, there will continue to be such
> instability.

...but I have to say that I fail to see where we disagree.  I didn't mean to
imply that the naming system was "the problem"; but rather a symptom of the
problem that seems to ruffle the most feathers.  The real "problem", as I
see it, is as you say: the information gaps (and the unwillingness of some
ardent cladisticians to acknowledge that such gaps can compromise the
integrity of their inferred phylogenies).

> Given the number of species still to be found, examined and
> characterized (genetically and morphologically), it's going to be a long
> time yet before we have the final, all-encompassing phylogeny of life on
> earth.

Certainly no argument here!  I say with great confidence that we will NOT,
within my professional lifetime, have the complete phylogeny worked out for
all living things on Earth.  My confidence in the accelerative nature of
technology, however, does give me confidence that, within the next 3-4
decades, we will be at the point where creating complete-genome sequences
will be cheap, fast, routine, and easy; and our understanding of how to
decipher phylogenetically useful information from such data will be
approaching an asymptote (i.e., we'll be able to extract whatever
information can possibly be extracted).  In other words, we'll be able to
establish -- with as much confidence as is possible -- the "true"
phylogenetic relationships among a set of organisms.  I guess if we disagree
on anything, it would be that in order to understand the relationships of
any species, we mush first be aware of all species.  I can imagine a time
when new species are continuing to be discovered, but that their placement
within the Tree of Life will be something that a computer can ascertain
(again, with as much confidence as is possible), within a few minutes of
presenting it with a small tissue sample.

> So maybe Dan's "always" is not truly accurate, but Rich sounds a
> bit overly
> optimistic about how much short of "always" we'll be in settling
> relationships (and hence, names/codes/IDs).

I guess only time will tell whether the optimistic, or pessimistic
perspective proves more prescient....


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

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