[Taxacom] encylopedia of life [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Sun May 13 11:10:43 CDT 2007

Consensus is wonderful. Apparently, from the discussion, we have up to 80% consensus on taxonomy. Enforced consensus is, however, fascism. Enforcement could be by the nature of the database. Right now our databases are libraries, and no matter how inconvenient, we can pick and chose. 
Most of us are scentific realists, and feel that there is a reality out there that we approach in our science. We should not forget, however, that we approach this reality with models, and some (20%?) of the time we must have, cannot do without, need, more than one model. If the EoL is based on the ToL, then there is one model that is "preferred" and all others, even when mentioned and links given, are necessarily second rate. 
Thus, my question is "Is the Tree of Life project going to be the preferred system for the Encyclopedia of Life?" 
One might think that in an online database replacement for libraries that there must be one preferred system. Otherwise, what? Instead of a species page, you get a choice of several pages? 
And this is not like complaining about the Dewey Decimal system that puts taxonomy way back in QK instead of up front where it belongs. 


From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu on behalf of Dick Jensen
Sent: Sun 5/13/2007 8:25 AM
To: Peter Stevens
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] encylopedia of life [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

Peter Stevens and Tom Lammers make good points.  In fact, aren't even our best theories, as well as our best working hypotheses, based on consensus?  John Grehan's argument for a Pongo + Homo classification is based on the view that there is a consensus of key characters that support this linkage.  Consensus does play an important role in science.

Dick J

Richard Jensen, Professor
Department of Biology
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN 46556

tel: 574-284-4674

----- Original Message -----
From: Peter Stevens <peter.stevens at mobot.org>
To: Thomas Lammers <lammers at uwosh.edu>
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Sat, 12 May 2007 11:24:59 -0400 (EDT)
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 

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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