[Taxacom] Monophyly is testable?

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sat Apr 4 18:02:44 CDT 2009

Fred Schueler wrote:

"the historical sciences are the hard sciences exactly because one can't
go back in time to test hypotheses directly. Physics and chemistry are
ranked among the easy sciences because they deal with matters of
universal law, where hypotheses can be tested directly, anywhere and
anytime. Historical sciences aren't less scientific because their
hypotheses can't be tested directly: they're just harder."

Excellent point, Fred, and I'm glad you made it. Many systematists walk
around with inferred histories in their heads and forget the 'inferred'
bit, and that all the data they deal with (in the absence of fossils)
come from contemporary Life.

Thanks to magnificent analytical efforts over the past few decades,
systematics has been enriched by statistical inference of phylogenies.
Terrific, it's given many systematists more confidence in their
hypothesis-*building*, but they tend to forget that an hypothesis
supported by a statistical criterion in its *building* has still not
been *tested*. And, of course, accepting an hypothesis on any
statistical criterion is making a judgement call.

And Gucharan Singh-satyam wrote:

"If we just think that we are systematists (taxonomists: and perhaps
some one will question why I club the the two together) aiming at trying
to identify all known species of plants, giving them universally agreed
names and arrange them based on all available data (morphology and
molecular data should not used as contradictions but as complementing
each other) perhaps there won't be need for discussions that bring out
forcing points of view and not finding the meeting point."

+1. I wonder how much of the systematics stoushes over the years have
arisen because at the back of some participants' minds is the belief
that there's One True Tree and that the real goal of systematics is to
reveal it in all its (completely illusory) glory.

(Off to the field...)
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
and School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
Ph (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html

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