Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU
Thu Jul 21 17:41:31 CDT 2005

Robert's notion of two separate "goalposts" - for classification and phylogeny - is IMHO a neat and accurate metaphor. However, it was, and I presume still is, the ultimate heresy to the strict cladist, who has always insisted that the goals are identical! I shudder when I think of the paper, ink, and bile that has been wasted over the years in the mediaeval-style debates on this matter. What a pity that we couldn't have started out with recognition of TWO goals for taxonomy; or perhaps two separate names - say, taxonomist and phylogeneticist.

Don Colless,
Div of Entomology, CSIRO,
GPO Box 1700,
Canberra. 2601.
Email: don.colless at csiro.au
Tuz li munz est miens envirun

-----Original Message-----
From:   Taxacom Discussion List on behalf of Robert Mesibov
Sent:   Wed 7/20/2005 3:32 PM
Subject:             Goalposts
I find it helpful in reading TAXACOM threads to keep the "goalposts" in
view. At one end of the playing field is the classification goalpost. When
shooting for this one, you aim to sort your organisms into a classification
which is useful for identifying and for unambiguous labeling. A useful
classification may or may not have predictive value about organisms not yet
fitted into it, but in any case you are taking a risk when making such
predictions, because as we all know, Nature is full of surprises. I'm sure
no one on this list would rely on a classification as a substitute for
fieldwork or careful biological study.

At the other end of the field is the phylogeny goalpost. Here the aim is to
imagine the evolutionary history of life. The hypothetical histories we come
up with can never be tested against the truth, because that truth is
unknowable. The best we can do is make sure a phylogenetic hypothesis isn't
in serious conflict with morphological, molecular, paleontological or
biogeographical data. If it is, try again.


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