[Taxacom] encylopedia of life [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Sat May 12 08:08:49 CDT 2007

Consensus taxonomy is another way of saying "not science". Consensus is
a political concept concerning the belief systems of the participants.
Sometimes consensus is used in place of "majority". These become very
troubling standards to introduce into taxonomy, especially when
creationists are regularly accused of being non-scientific. When there
is no single standardized taxonomy the issue of politics is less acute,
although it has already emerged with the tree of life. When the
alternative taxonomies do not impinge upon other critical prejudgments
there seems to be a greater tendency to recognizing conflicting

An interesting test case is going to be the human-ape relationship with
its alternatives of both relationship (human-orangutan,
human-chimpanzee) and taxonomy (the orangutan relationship involves a
proposed taxonomy of Hominidae (Humans and nearest relatives following
split from nearest living ape), Pongidae (orangutan), and Panidae
(chimps and gorillas). On this issue there is NO consensus whatsoever,
and I doubt there is going to be any for a long time. There is a paper
nearing submission that includes a phylogenetic analysis of living and
fossil taxa that supports the human-orangutan arrangement. It will be
interesting to see if this alternative gets acknowledged or suppressed
in EOL after publication.

John Grehan

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of James L.
Sent: Friday, May 11, 2007 8:17 AM
To: jrc at anbg.gov.au
Cc: 'Richard Zander'; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] encylopedia of life [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

Actually, the Encyclopedia of Life is going to take a similar approach.

Whenever possible we will use a consensus taxonomy, such as the ones
promulgated by Species 2000 and ITIS. (Where there isn't a consensus, we
will work with other groups to try to achieve a consensus.) The
consensus view will be the one presented to the general public. But we
also intend to include alternative classifications for those who wish to
use them. We want the EOL to be a tool for working taxonomists, not just
a resource for the general public.

Jim Edwards

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