[Taxacom] The future of taxonomy

Kenneth Kinman kennethkinman at webtv.net
Wed Feb 18 21:24:36 CST 2009

Hi Richard,
      Yes, I agree that it is "importunate homage" to strictly cladistic
nomenclature, and also that wonderful opportunities are therefore being
missed.  But this is not too surprising given that so much funding
passes through a few narrow channels in Washington D.C., and "strict
cladism" has been rewarded for decades through those channels.  Not at
all surprising that government-backed projects like NCBI, Tree of Life,
and so on, perpetuate the myth that paraphyly is bad, because those who
perpetuate it are continually rewarded for doing so.        
      Those who raise warnings of future problems in such an extreme
approach are not rewarded.  Perhaps that is why our economy is now in
shambles.  It now seems obvious that Washington D.C. and New York also
followed the money in the excesses of financial investment.  Not that I
think that strict cladists are generally that greedy, but I believe it
has had a long term effect on who gets published and promoted (and
therefore in control of future funding), and over several decades it has
gotten us to this point.  The whistleblowers are always ignored until
the damage is done.  Those who finally get fed up with it all generally
just leave the profession.    
        Just when the problems associated with the excesses of cladistic
(phylogenetic) taxonomy become more apparent is uncertain. So far, those
problems have been largely masked by the advances produced by cladistic
analysis (which can be quite productive when done correctly).  The big
problem is that some cladistic analysis is excellent, while some of it
is frankly garbage.  When the garbage gets directly translated into
classification, you get garbage ("unstable") classification.  It's a bit
like the "PR" of calling a food "natural", even if it is really
unhealthy and full of unnatural chemicals, causing cancer, diabetes,
obesity, and other maladies.  The garbage gets lumped in with good
        Frankly, I have reach the point where I pick my battles very
carefully:  namely, those major paraphyletic taxa that are most
important to the long term stablility of taxonomy.  As for something
like genus Drosophila, the best we can probably do is to encourage a
slight expansion, rather than a splitting process which has no certain
end in sight.  At this point, it is still mainly damage control until
the damage becomes glaringly apparent to those in control of the
      ----------Ken Kinman           
Richard Zander wrote:
Actually, paraphyly of Drosophila is not a problem but a wonderful
opportunity to examine descent with modification of taxa. Clearly the
paraphyletic group is the ancestor of the autophyletic taxa. 
It is only an importunate homage to the sister-group analytic method
that enforces strict phylogenetic monophyly (holophyly) in modern
classifications, splitting, excising, or reducing in rank taxa that
should have unique evolutionary traits flagged at a proper level in
classification. Because ancestor-descendant relationships are not
recognized in phylogenetic classification, phylogeneticists are
destroying more evolutionary information than creationists and
intelligent design ever will. 
I've said this elsewhere, so far to no effect. 

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