Consensus (was: Google for Internet Database of all life...)

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Thu Mar 23 12:40:42 CST 2006

Curtis Clark wrote:

> A lot of those "Ivory Tower
> types" have embraced monophyly because it fits best with the new facts
> about actual organisms that they discovered and published.

I don't think the notion that nomenclature should reflect strictly
monophyletic groups has much to do with "facts" -- it's about philosophy.
Different parties will often agree on the facts (character states). They
will sometimes differ about the interpretation of those facts (homology,
weighting, independance, etc.). However, the most passionate arguments boil
down to philosophy -- that is, the philosophy about what criteria we should
use as the basis for defining "boxes" that are taxa (i.e., how to translate
a particular interpretation of the facts into nomenclatural labels).

If I'm not mistaken, Ken's "Ivory Tower" comment refers not to methods by
which charcters and their states are defined, nor even how to interpret and
analyze those facts to arrive at a "best guess" (hypothesis) about
phylogenetic affinities -- but rather to an attitude (which I have
experience myself) that the debate about how best to apply names (i.e.,
define boxes) is now over, with the phlosophy of "nomenclature strictly
reflecting monophyetic phylogeny" having unambigiously triumphed.  In my
opinion, that debate is far from over.

To be fair, I think that those who favor strict monophyly as a basis for
nomenclature were up against a pre-existing "Ivory Tower" attitude of the
"traditionalist" taxonomists in the early days of cladistics and modern
phylogenetic methodology; and thus acquired an analgous attitude in
response.  And, I see evidence that the "Ivory Tower" attitude is on the
decline (in both camps).

By the way, the reason I use the word "nomenclature" instead of
"classification" is that any given person (let alone different people) might
have different ways of classifying the same set of things (as Pierre
Deleporte illustrated with the "trout, lungfish and cow" example) -- so
classification schemes are necessarily diverse. However, nomenclature -- the
intent of which is to facilitate communication -- serves its function best
when it is relatively stable, and relatively well shared by many different
people.  Thus, the argument is really about nomenclature, not so much


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