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

Karl Magnacca kmagnacca at WESLEYAN.EDU
Thu Mar 10 18:48:05 CST 2005

On 10 Mar 2005 at 21:26, Thomas Lammers wrote:
> 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.

I don't understand your reasoning.  It seems much more dangerous to
allow classifications to be made on whatever basis an author decides is
a good idea.  It's bad enough that people want to name every clade they
can figure out and most of the ones they can't; but making a basic
standard for what a name is naming (i.e. a clade) at least keeps things
to a certain standard.  If you have a better idea than using clades I'm
open to suggestions, but I think you pretty much *have* to decide a
priori how classifications will be done.  Failing to do so results in
the situation we have today, where people are deeply attached to names
that aren't clades for reasons that have a lot to do with tradition.

One thing that everyone seems to ignore (presumably deliberately) is
that just because a name isn't accepted as part of formal
classification, doesn't mean that it can never be spoken again.  It is
useful in various situations to be able to refer to Nematocera, even if
it's not really a group.

> 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 ...

a) The fact that ferns are more closely related to grasses than to
lycophytes has nothing to do with the classification.  You'd have to
explain it anyway.

b) If they can't figure out what "more closely related" means after
being shown a phylogenetic tree and given two minutes of explanation,
then they're the ones who are stupid.

> 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.

Okay - just turn off the computer, take some deep breaths, lie down,
turn off the lights, and try to relax.  Come on, lighten up a little
bit.  Just because some people are sociopaths about cladistics doesn't
mean you have to be too.

What is it about cladistics (and phylogenetics more broadly) that turns
people into savage beasts?  The nature of names and the deep sense of
attachment to them?  Or is it something about botanists in particular?
I and my fellow entomology students used to go to a phylogenetics
journal club with the botany students, and usually came away thinking
"what is with these people?" (actually now that I think of it, there
were a few entomologists like that too)

Anyway, quit complaining - at least you're doing systematics.  I have to
work with ecologists.

Karl Magnacca, USGS-BRD
PO Box 11, Hawaii Natl. Park, HI 96718
"Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has
gotten into the wrong hands."   --Sen. Jesse Helms

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