NOT-inflated Family Staphylinidae

Michael A. Ivie mivie at MONTANA.EDU
Fri Feb 11 10:01:22 CST 2005

Dear Ken,

Well, you are a master of the non sequitur -- I do salute you on that skill! And, as someone who now gets AARP solicitations, I do enjoy being called a Young Turk.  And, after all the drivel you put on TAXACOM, I suspect calling me "vocal" is a bit of the "pot calling the kettle black."  Lastly, I wish your jealousy of all the Federal money I have gotten by being a good little cladonazi was better justified.  Your statement "strict cladism's weaknesses are shown in its eventual lack of ability to adequately predict future discoveries and knowledge" should be all any educated modern systematist needs to understand both your position and lack of knowledge (or at least deep understanding) on the subject.  Quite the contrary, monophyly gives the greatest predictability of any system of classification.  None are perfect, but if some omnipotent deity were to present us with a "true" phylogeny of life (the [unobtainable but desired] goal of strict cladistics), we would have the most powerfully
predictable tool imaginable.

Now, to your specific points (or lack thereof):  First, the majority of biologists are unaware and uninformed on the issue of Aves vs. Reptilia.  Your point is one of those things high school debate coaches teach: use a generality that appears both true and important, but is in fact not relevant, to divert your opponent from a point.   In fact, even if what you say is true, "the majority of biologists" do cellular or medical work, and know nothing of phylogenetics.  Asking them for their opinion on this is like asking me if I think it is best to consider one form of medical therapy superior to another.  On the other hand, the majority of systematic zoologists would laugh at your support for polyphyly.  And, trying to use the government-think argument (another high school debate technique: associate the opponent with a hated group) shows great ignorance of how NSF makes funding decisions.  It is the community that decides, not the "guberment," and the scientific community of systematists
does a pretty good job of separating the science from the stuff you promote.

As for your attempt to change the subject on the Coleoptera debate, I did not mention the subordinal tree at all, nor did Thayer nor Sikes.  You have no idea what any of us think about it, and it is not the subject of debate.  We were debating your idea of supporting non-monophyletic groups instead of a larger monophyletic ones in the Staphylinoidea.  Your diversion is another cheap attempt to change the subject after losing the argument.  We are talking about the Staphylinidae -- try to stay on topic.  And, given that I am supporting change, and you the reactionary position, I suggest you examine whom is "digging in their heels" here?  And, for YOU to impugn whether I am a serious Coleopterists is simply hilarious.  HILARIOUS!  I may not be on the level of a Margaret Thayer or Derek Sikes, but I am certainly qualified to debate a Ken Kinman on the topic of Coleoptera phylogeny.

I don't think underestimating you on any topic is something I am likely to ever do.


Ken Kinman wrote:

> Dear Michael,
>       Well, if I am "unbalanced" as you call it, I guess I am in good company.  Whether the "young turks" (of which you seem to be a vocal member) prevail in the long term remains to be seen.  As for those of us who see no problem (and even advantages) in recognizing a Class Reptilia giving rise to an exgroup, Class Aves, you might be surprised that the majority of biologists may well outnumber you in spite of the preferential treatment strict cladists seem to have gotten from certain funding agencies in the U.S. government in recent years.  That does not make strict cladism a good thing in the long run (governmental thinking is often notoriously short-term oriented).  Nor does it mean such preferential treatment will continue indefinitely once strict cladism's weaknesses are shown in its eventual lack of ability to adequately predict future discoveries and knowledge.  That gravy-train may end sooner than you think.
>       As for the Coleoptera in particular, I suppose you prefer the subordinal phylogeny presented by the Tree of Life.  But that subordinal topology is certainly not universally accepted, and the alternative topology with Polyphaga at the base of Coleoptera should not be shrugged off as particularly unlikely.  If evolutionary entomology has a cladistic Achilles heel, it is probably the Coleoptera, so I recommend not digging in your heels too obstinately.  You might find yourself painted into an embarrassingly small corner.  But I suspect the most serious coleopterists on taxacom will be taking this alternative a little more seriously (at least I hope so).  I am far from being a "typological old duffer", and you apparently seriously underestimate my grasp of the history of taxonomy (both the good and the bad).  I suggest that you have much to learn, as do many strict cladists.  And if you think I am defending the old Staphylinidae per se, then you clearly have not carefully read what
> I said.
>     --- Good luck,
>                Ken Kinman


Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D.
Department of Entomology
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59717

(406) 994-4610 (voice)
(406) 994-6029 (FAX)
mivie at

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