[Taxacom] paraphylophobia again

Kenneth Kinman kennethkinman at webtv.net
Sun Jul 19 00:26:03 CDT 2009

Hi Stephen,
        Well, I don't think going back in time and killing Hennig would
solve anything.  Someone else would have eventually espoused the same
counter-revolution against the excesses of authoritarian, often rampant,
paraphyleticism back in the 1950's.  Either way, the result would
probably have been an over-reaction that resulted in an excessive
aversion to paraphyletic groups.  
       My experience is that it is human nature to over-react to one
extreme with an opposite extreme, especially in a social context (mob
behavior can affect scientists as well as less educated elements of
humanity).  Too many paraphyletic taxa were unfortunately replaced by a
pendulum swing toward an intolerance of paraphyletic taxa at all.  That
it has taken so long to recognize that this counter-revolution created
as many problems as it solved is frankly baffling to me.  That it
further led to a widespread acceptance of the Three Domain
classification of life, much less that Archaebacteria ("Archaea") are in
any way "archaic" is equally baffling.  It's about as baffling as the
common view that stock prices and real-estate prices would climb
      Eventually the real world kicks in, and as I have warned for
years, strict cladism is going to suffer the same kind of reality check.
Not that I think that cladistic analysis is bad (when done well), but
it's just the automatic conversion of cladistic analyses into
cladifications that is problematic.  That you would feel compelled to
elevate obscure protists groups to the status of Kingdom just to avoid
the now widespread dreaded fear of paraphyly shows how deeply that
"public-relations" campaign has infected our educational (even
post-graduate) system over the past few decades.  It somewhat reminds me
of diet fads that rail against carbohydrates or fats, instead of a more
moderate intake that recognizes that we need a balance of everything in
moderation.  A little paraphyly is a wonderful thing if it is sparingly
used in the proper context, but a total rejection of paraphyly is about
as nutty as obsessive-compulsives rubbing their bleeding hands raw
trying to kill every bacterium in their house.  Paraphyly is part of
reality and fighting it is about as fruitless as trying to rid the world
of bacteria, fungi, or even mosquitos.  If you want to have a healthy
immune system (or biological classification), being obsessive-compulsive
about it is a losing battle when you pursue it to an extreme.  
        --------Ken Kinman  
Stephen Thorpe wrote:
some of the replies to my last email lead me to make the following
the classification of life into "kingdoms" (or "regna") doesn't really
work. For a start, there are the "problematic" viruses - in or out of
the biotic realm??? But, just to talk about eucaryotes, it is
completely obvious that "Protista" are paraphyletic with respect to
Animalia (=Metazoa), Plantae, and Fungi. This leads to a dilemma:
either (1) animals and plants are no longer to be considered kingdoms
of life (which takes us disturbingly far away from the original  meaning
of "kingdom"), or (2) we must elevate a plethora of obscure  "protist"
groups to the level of kingdom, and run the risk of our  beloved animals
and plants just being sub-sub-sub-...clades of some  newly recognised
Someone please go back in time an kill Hennig, before he invented
cladistics!!! [just kidding!] 

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