lonely Dan Janzen

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Fri Mar 26 10:25:54 CST 2004

I think I may well be among the most misunderstood regular contributors to
this list; as the score is now 3 for 3 among responders who appeared to
provide dissent, but in fact offered strong congruence. Clearly I need to
work on my communication skills!

Don Colless quoted both Dan Janzen and myself:

> Richard Pyle wrote:
> ------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---------
> > many - and I dare say some day nearly all - users also make very
> > extensive use of the marvelous inferencial (=predictive) power of the
> > phylogenetic components of your classification systems.    You are
> > all aware that the more phylogenetically-based your system(s), the
> > more inferentially powerful it is for us users.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------
> ----------
> that the Linnaean system was suboptimal for communicating inferred
> phylogenies)
> ------------------------------------------------------------------
> ----------
>  the use of nomenclature as a tool for the strict
> representation of phylogenies inferred from the latest lump of data.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------
> -----------

...and then countered with:

> He also offered several wise and temperate comments. But the
> above quotes illustrate a common non-sequitur that is achieving
> the status of received truth. To wit:
> A. Classifications should be predictive.
> B. Cladistic classifications offer the best available predictions
> of phylogeny.
> C. Ergo, classifications should be cladistic.
> The non-sequitur lies in just whether it is just phylogeny that
> we wish to extract from a classification.

...which very elegantly makes the point that I have tried to make again and
again on this list; that it is a *mistake* to assume that the Linnaean
Nomenclature classification system should be used with the single-minded
purpose of conveying hypothesized phylogenetic relationships.

I certainly believe that there should be *a* classification system whose
purpose is to communicate inferred phylogenies. In general practice today,
it takes the form of cladograms.  The PhyloCode folks want to create such a
phylogeny-dedicated classification system; but alas, it suffers from the
"ruffled feathers" problem. But my underlying point is (and has been) that I
just don't think that the Linnaean system is it -- despite the fact that it
has been co-opted for that purpose by many in the cladistical taxonomic

Anyone who reviews my posts to this list with any scrutiny will soon realize
that I count myself among the most ardent supporters of the Linnaean
nomenclatural system for its obvious inherent value.  To a large extent it
should reflect phylogeny, but I believe its purpose goes beyond that (e.g.,
I believe there are times when nomenclature should acknowledge certain
groups, even when the current evidence suggests it to be paraphyletic to
something with a different name).  When I say that the Linnaean system is
suboptimal for communicating inferred phylogenies, I did NOT intend that as
a criticism of the Linnaean system; but rather as a criticism of those who
believe that the Linnaean system should be used only/primarily as a
classification system that strictly communicates information about inferred
phylogenetic affinities.

> Moreover, the much maligned Linnaean system is an excellent tool
> for marking where useful or important information is located.
> Generic, family, etc., ranks are NOT allocated by an algorithm,
> as so much beloved by cladists. They result (optimally) from a
> consensus of conscientious, trained, taxonomic opinion.

The above paragraph very eloquently characterizes my own feelings about the
Linnaean system, and how it should be used.


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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