Latin names versus scientific names [was: So much for nomenclatural stability]

Thomas Lammers lammers at UWOSH.EDU
Thu Mar 10 21:26:54 CST 2005

----- Original Message -----
From: Curtis Clark <jcclark-lists at EARTHLINK.NET>

> This is a common misconception. Even if there is only a single
> synapomorphy at a node, a cladistic classification is in no sense
> monothetic, since all the apomorphies above and below that node also
> help support its monophyly.

It's monothetic in the sense that only one sort of information, branching pattern inferred from synapomorphies, is the entire basis of the classification.  A polythetic classification would take into branch length, symplesiomorphies, etc.  I don't care how many synapomorphies you have, the entire basis of the classification is one thing: synapomorphies.  I think that's narrow-minded.  I think that is discarding potentially useful data a priori.   The whole concept of deciding a priori how we will do classifications is fraught with danger and strikes me as antithetical to good science.  It didn't work for Caesalpino, it didn't work for Linnaeus, and it doesn't work for cladistics.

I have the unenviable task now of explaining to my into botany students why their textbook says Psilotum and Equisetum are ferns, but lycophytes aren't.  I have to explain that there's "no such thing" as a seedless vascular plant any more, despite six generations of botanists finding that a useful content.  I have to explain to them that an orchid or a grass is "more closely related" to a fern or horsetail (they are all megaphyllous Euphyllophytes, despite Equisetum having what everyone has called microphylls for years) than ferns and horsetails are to the lycophytes that share the same life cycle.  They look at me like I'm stupid when I explain that to them.  They actually ask, "What sense does THAT make, Dr. Lammers?"   Out of the mouth of babes ...

Yes, I know this is heresy.  I know the systematics community has sold its soul to cladistics.  I'll probably never amount to a hill of beans professionally because of my refusal to kowtow before the altar of cladistics.  I don't give a damn.  Cladistic classification is a bad idea, and someday the systematics community is going to wake up, slap its collective forehead, and shout, "What the hell were we thinking???"  Any time that Playing By The Rules And Getting Nice Patterns is more important than finding out what's really going on, we aren't doing science any more, we're playing silly games.  Art Cronquist was right.

And did it ever occur that to anyone that "common misconception" just might mean "fact that people are too stubborn to accept"?

Tom Lammers

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