[Taxacom] encylopedia of life [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Sun May 13 08:26:33 CDT 2007

The breadth of a taxonomic category might be one place where consensus
rules since the limits are arbitrary. One could well propose Pongo
sapiens as much as Homo troglodytes. Interestingly, the Homo designation
lost out to the majority preference to keep them in separate genera
(which avoided the tangled consequence that one would also have to
subordinate Australopithecus, Paranthropus and any other fossil hominid
under Homo as well). 

John Grehan

-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Stevens [mailto:peter.stevens at mobot.org] 
Sent: Saturday, May 12, 2007 11:25 AM
To: Thomas Lammers
Cc: John Grehan; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] encylopedia of life [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

There is another aspect of classifications and consensus - which is as
much social in the broad sense, rather than simply political, OK, all
phylogenies are hypotheses, and some are better supported than others.
However, given extremely strong support for a particular phylogeny,
perhaps Pongo as sister to Homo as Grehan would like, such that we could
ALL link arms and walk off into the sunset in mutual agreement and
admiration, we still have to reach consensus about the classification
based on the phylogeny, or, with the phylocode, the names  that are in
general use .  If we don't have this consensus, we have Babel. There
might be nothing stopping the combination Pongo sapiens...

For a consensus f the kind about which I am talking, it isn't about
science, it is about aspects of the communication of science. I realise
there are different philosophies of classification, but this issue
transcends particular philosophies

On May 12, 2007, at 8:20 AM, Thomas Lammers wrote:

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: John Grehan <jgrehan at sciencebuff.org>
>> 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.
> Those are indeed valid concerns.
> At the same time, I think it is axiomatic that "classifications are 
> hypotheses."  They are not final answers, they all stand pro tempore.

> As such, a hypothesis arrived at via concensus is as useful, pro tem, 
> as any other.  The important thing is to be honest about status.
> Tom Lammers
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