Real taxa => Ranking

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Wed Sep 29 22:25:10 CDT 2004

Hi Ken,

Many thanks for the kind and supportive words!  But why does every
philosophical discussion about species concepts seem to ultimately meander
back to Phylocode bashing?  :-) (rhetorical)

I'm starting to view Phylocode as analogous to the early attempts to promote
registration of taxon names in Botany.  So much noise/flak/etc. that it
casts a dark shadow over the otherwise bright conceptual points within.  The
bright conceptual point within Phylocode (as I see it) is the recognition
that ongoing tension resulting from the non-traditional (e.g., "strict
cladistic") application of a traditional nomenclatural system would
ultimately be of benefit to no one.  The Linnaean nomenclature system has a
very successful, two-and-a-half-century legacy as a language for
communication about fundamental aspects of biodiversity among biologists. I
see no reason why that legacy cannot continue decades/centuries into the
future. The problems (as I see them) began when well-intentioned folks (and
I don't mean that facetiously) saw an opportunity to utilize this
conveniently hierarchical naming system as a language to communicate
hypotheses about inferred evolutionary affinities.  What was needed (and
what I STILL feel is needed -- whether it is the Phylocode or some other
nomenclatural scheme) was a language that is optimized to communicate ideas
about phylogenies. Maybe your system is the answer, and both needs can be
accommodated without bitter dispute using a single, marked-up version of
Linnaean nomenclature.'s late, and I'm tired, and I need to get up
early, so...


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Taxacom Discussion List [mailto:TAXACOM at LISTSERV.NHM.KU.EDU]On
> Behalf Of Ken Kinman
> Sent: Wednesday, September 29, 2004 5:41 PM
> Subject: Re: Real taxa => Ranking
> Richard (and other Taxacomers),
>      Yes, it is evident which philosophical camp you are in.
> However, I wouldn't say your postings have burdened the list.  On
> the contrary, your philosophical leanings seem rather Ashlockian,
> and many (including myself) find them to be a breath of fresh air.  :-)
>       Those who have simplistically (and RELENTLESSLY) driven
> toward the goal of total paraphyly elimination for over three
> decades have not only ignored stability and usefulness, but have
> also ignored the underlying subjectivity of their own premise
> (that paraphyly is unnatural and thus unscientific).  Thus,
> Malcolm McKenna's classifications of mammals over the years have
> introduced so many new Linnaean intermediate ranks that he
> himself seems to now be in favor of abandoning ranked
> classifications.  It seems to be pretty clear that it is those
> who have abused Linnaean ranks that eventually want to abandon
> them when such abuse renders them almost useless.  It is the
> ABUSE that should stop, not the USE of ranks.  The abusers are
> blaming the victims instead of their own subjective rejection of
> paraphyly as a NATURAL part of the evolutionary process.   And of
> course, a PhyloCode which would MANDATE the subjective rejection
> of paraphyly makes this subjectivity even more glaringl
>  y
>       apparent (perhaps the reason the PhyloCode makes many of
> the older strict cladists so nervous).
>      As for Peter Stevens' hope that a more robust phylogeny of
> flowering plants could eventually allow basing ranks on absolute
> age, I had a similar reaction to that of Robin Leech.  It just
> doesn't seem logical.  It is obvious that all species (except the
> common ancestors themselves) are younger than the higher ranking
> taxa that include them).  Ranks are thus automatically based on
> RELATIVE age.  But Hennig's idea that they be based on ABSOLUTE
> age has been problematic from the very beginning, and it will
> ALWAYS be problematic no matter how robustly supported our
> cladograms become.
>      As much as I like Peter Stevens' approach to flowering plant
> classification (even though I have noted "relatively" minor
> disagreements), I will always argue against the subjective
> Hennigian convention (which he still adheres to) that paraphyly
> must be totally eliminated.  And this is not just based on
> utility (usefulness), but also the basic premise that paraphyly
> IS a real process, and that the Hennigian convention that
> attempts to define paraphyly out of existence is completely
> unreal (and one of the most subjective misrepresentations of 20th
> Century biology).  How far into the 21st Century must we go
> before we abandon this straight-jacket of a convention, to admit
> that 100% holophyly was a dumb idea from the beginning, and
> repair the damage before it gets even worse?  Pierre may be
> correct that the holy grail of a single, universally acceptable
> classification is a myth----however, I do think we could achieve
> 95-99% acceptable classifications for most groups eventually
>  , but
>       ONLY if we abandon the holy grail of 100% holophyly in
> classification---which is a far, FAR greater nonsensical myth.
>           ------ Sincerely,
>                        Ken Kinman
> ******************************************************
> Richard Pyle wrote:
>      "Objective" is a term that is perceived as being more
> "scientific", and is what seems to be behind the motivations of
> modern systematists who enshrine concepts such as "monophyly" as
> all-important (stability and subjective "usefulness" of
> nomenclature be damned), or who see techniques such as DNA
> barcoding as more than just an excellent tool for identification
> of known species (which I think it is), but also as an
> "objective" metric by which lines between named taxa should be drawn.
>      It should be evident from the tone of my writing above (not
> to mention the volumes of text I have burdened this list with in
> the past) which philosophical camp I am in.

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