Real taxa => Ranking

Ken Kinman kinman2 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Sep 30 23:14:03 CDT 2004

Dear Richard,
     Well, I too will echo my agreement with your last statement.  However, I am increasingly convinced that PhyloCode is not even close to being the right approach to solving such problems.  And just following the discussions of just one newsgroup (Dinosaur Mailing List), one can clearly see that even PhyloCode proponents continue their constant bickering with one another over many issues (some substantitive and some not).  It does not bode well for it even surviving, much less adding to useful scientific discourse over the long term.  That many strict cladists attack it overall (not just the particulars) is a more effective argument against it than my own (or that of any other traditional taxonomist).  And the closer ANYONE looks at it, the more problematic it becomes.

     What seems even sadder is that it all stems from a Hennigian classificatory convention (paraphyly MUST be totally eliminated from classifications).  Ignoring paraphyly for the purposes of cladistic analyses works the vast majority of the time with no problem.  But extending this convention to ALL classifications, all of the time, is not only destabilizing and confusing in the long run, it is intellectually dishonest to maintain that paraphyly is unnatural and/or without utility.  Arguments against paraphyly are primarily based on a Hennigian convention (not theory or facts).  And in spite of Peter Stevens' protest, I will continue to argue about naturalness, simply because it was strict cladists who have themselves repeatedly invoked "naturalness" as an argument against the use of paraphyletic groups.  They started it, and I am simply responding to their uninformed rhetoric.

     Anyway, as I have argued before, we should not strive for one SINGLE huge cladogram to classify organisms (which will always be unstable and therefore of limited usefulness, especially if you want to include extinct taxa), but rather an organized piecing together of a limited number of robust cladograms which effectively cuts the one big cladogram at certain points of maximal uncertainty.  If you explicitly label these paraphyletic cuts in some manner akin to that of the Kinman System, it is still one big cladogram in an informational sense (sister group information is thus not lost when paraphyletic cuts are made).  I am still basically a cladist, but without the illogical prejudice against limited paraphyly.  I cannot believe that this approach would cause more bickering than that which we have already experienced.  It certainly wouldn't stop the bickering, but I believe it would focus the bickering on a more limited number of areas where it is inevitable anyway (where lack of knowledge is the main problem, fossil gaps in particular).

      Now, I suppose something like the PhyloCode could be formulated (in a way that didn't clash with existing Codes) that would be even more optimal in some ways, but the present PhyloCode is so far from approaching what that might be, it seems increasingly absurd to pretend that it can be salvaged.  As it is presently formulated, it is a clear threat to the other Codes.  If they wanted to coexist, they would not hijack and greatly modify (in a very destabilizing manner) traditional taxon names for their own purposes.  Until they start acting like they want to coexist, I will continue to BASH them.  And their denial that paraphyly is real or natural (or useful) is absurd, as it is based on Hennigian convention (not any well thought-out theoretical biological principles).  Start with a false premise, and everything built upon that foundation will be increasingly shakey no matter how much they try to prop it up.  Now I am the one who is tired and getting a headache, so t

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