[Taxacom] Mona Lisa Smile

pierre deleporte pierre.deleporte at univ-rennes1.fr
Fri Jul 28 13:31:31 CDT 2006

A 02:55 28/07/2006 +0000, Ken Kinman wrote :
>      What I got from Christopher's post was not that phylogenetic
>considerations are not useful to his industry, but rather that it is
>strictly cladistic classifications (and a PhyloCode that mandates

I got, like you do, from Christopher's post that pickering about 
phylogenetic relationships was not his problem, he is no evolutionary 
biologist. I conclude that Christopher does not care for the phylogenetic 
precision of the Kinman system (while you do, as is well known, see below). 
But Christopher knows better than me, I took this just as an illustrating 
example that not everybody has the same classificatory needs. Hence any 
crusade for imposing a unique system is vain. There is (I hope) no future 
is such arbitrariness.

By the way Christopher just posted a message: OK he needs an identification 
key in fact! Does he know of modern multi-entry computer-assisted 
indentification tools, dispensing with the problems of strictly dichotomous 
hierarchical keys?
Little to do with classifications or codes anyway. I can't figure out a 
phylocoder imposing cladistic dichotomy on a modern identification tool.

Now I completely agree on general grounds with Christopher (and contra Ken) 
against imposing a unique system fo any purposes.

>after all, even my classifications are phylogenetic (just not
>phylogenetic in the strictest sense).

I know that: your system consists in two strictly phylogenetic 
classifications, one with, and one without, paraphyletic taxa (whether you 
make use of the Kinman markers for paraphyly or not). Explicitly labelled 
paraphyly is not "anti-phylogenetic", we agree entirely on this. Simply, 
the criteria for deciding where to chunk the tree of life and "stop 
paraphyletic groups" are not phylogenetic criteria properly. The same point 
was made years ago on this list by Zdenek Skala for chunking the 
monophyletic clades we name versus those we decide not to name, and I also 
agreed with this. I can have a phylogeny of reptiles (including nice 
feathered dinosaurs and legless lizards), this knowledge will not in itself 
tell me on which specific node to put the name "birds" or "snakes" (it all 
depends on what you call a Coetzalcoatl).

>   And calling it ivory tower thinking makes perfect sense to me,

I think that there are different purposes for requiring a classification, 
hence many different "ivory towers" = contexts of relevance, and the basic 
problem is with trying to impose a unique system, be it consistent or 
eclectic, from one's personal ivory tower over all other ones.
Looks like many "ivory tower" systematicans cannot even imagine 
classification another way than through the victory of a unique system 
against all competing ones (even when alternative propositions are not 
conceived as competing, but complementing).
Including yourself, proposing your personal system based on your subjective 
decisions. Where and why do you stop dinosaurs I still can't figure out, 
sincerely... If you tell me I promise I'll tell you back where you should 
make birds begin (great expectations!    ;-).

>having said the same thing myself, in that it is
>anti-Linnaean in rejecting paraphyletic taxa (and PhyloCode is even more
>anti-Linnaean in wanting to dispense with Linnaean categories).

I'm no phylocode propagandist - nor anti-phylocoder, from the moment when 
this system is not imposed on everybody, which does not seem to be their 
project. And I don't dislike paraphyletic taxa for some uses, as you should 
know well. I can make use of "non-human primates" for comparative 
psychology, while "great apes including humans" is also useful for the same 
But being anti-Linnean is not a vice in itself: why should it be? In which 

>Therefore a Kinman System type of classification is addressing this
>type of frustration (which not only occurs in industry and society at large,
>but a lot of those who share those ivory tower habitats, although they do
>not engaged such narrow ivory tower thinking).

To refer to  your system positively: your legendary subjectivism apart (!), 
I think that the two classifications contained in your system (the strictly 
monophyletic second option, and the other, eclectic first option) may be 
considered as a timid step towards a possibly desireable goal for 
systematicS: allowing all possible users to extract data from a single Data 
Matrix of Life under different classificatory logics, optimally according 
to their specific needs.

This is a rather utopian formulation of course, the key point is the 
desirable coexistence of different classifications of "the same things" 
fitting different purposes. The tasks of systematicians would be to go on 
documenting the Data Matrix of Life and developing VARIOUS, USEFUL 
classificatory tools (and identification keys, by the way) instead of 
trying to impose a unique consistent system or running after the impossible 

(This would not prevent the application of nomenclatural rules, when 
desired, inside different classificatory sytems: present international 
codes are agnostic as for classificatory logics).

And to play the prophet myself: some logically consistent classifications 
may hopefully stabilize with increasing scientific knowledge, while a 
unique eclectic "compromising" classification will likely never be achieved 
(because it must be arbitrary) and a unique logically consistent 
classification will never be imposed for all purposes (imposing this must 
also be arbitrary). What authority would impose an arbitrary 
classification? (Not Ken alone, sorry...).

>Workers like Christopher can simply ignore the coding within my
>classifications and be content with a basically traditional Linnaean
>classification that is relatively stable.

In my view they merely better use what they really need: an ecological 
classification for bioindicators (and identification keys for species or 
ecologically consistent groups of species).
Your system is not a "basically traditional Linnean classification", it is 
the original Kinman system.
It has a universal, internally consistent property: strict phylogeny.
And a subjective one: its idiomatic paraphyletic chunking... but the reader 
is not obliged to use it, this is why I call it a kind of "first step" in a 
promising direction (even if not intentional).

>The coding in the margins is just
>there for those of us whose have an interest in the cladistic particulars.

You never implemented my suggestion of years ago: name monophyletically, 
and put coding in the margins for those who have an interest in your 
personal paraphyletic chunking particulars. I really don't understand why 
(would make easier use for my needs, given my own my context of relevance...).

>For the vast majority of the inhabitants of our planet (and no doubt a
>majority of scientists as well),

Science is not a democraty, one can be right against the majority (this 
should please you some way...), but this question of classification is just 
practical, it is a matter of contextual convenience. My point is that an 
awkward compromise is questionable, at the very least.

>  a paraphyletic Class Reptilia works just
>fine, and they resent that minority of ivory tower inhabitants who are
>destroying that kind of stability and utility in biological classifications.

This is the crux, in my view: why do you resent destruction when your 
neighbour uses the classification he needs? This is completely 
incomprehensible for me (not to insist that you should provide some proofs 
of this "vast majority of the inhabitants of the planet resenting 
cladistics": unexpected, but unbelievable that they all attended courses in 
evolutionary biology.. the data, please?)
Except if you decide to dress the practical problem of classificationS in 
terms of victory or defeat of a unique universal system. It's your choice, 
but I think nobody is asking you to do that.

Well, it's getting late, but still hot, let I have a look out there for 
some legless lizards or feathered dinosaurs (pure provocation of course... 
but if you physically can't stand reading this sentence, I friendly suggest 
that you likely got a problem, not systematicS or the planet).

Best anyway,

>   ----Ken
>Taxacom mailing list
>Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu

Pierre Deleporte
CNRS UMR 6552 - Station Biologique de Paimpont
F-35380 Paimpont   FRANCE
Téléphone : 02 99 61 81 63
Télécopie : 02 99 61 81 88

Taxacom mailing list
Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu

More information about the Taxacom mailing list