[Taxacom] paraphylophobia again

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Sun Jul 19 00:56:02 CDT 2009

I agree wholeheartedly that a little paraphyly is a necessary part of  
a balanced diet (ruffage, perhaps!). I think it applies to a slightly  
different problem, though: given any monophyletic group, there will be  
one of more clearly monophyletic subgroups, plus a (basal)  
"remainder". Far too much funding and effort these days goes into  
trying to eliminate the paraphyly from the basal remainder, but it may  
well be futile in many (most?) cases. It would, in my opinion, be far  
more sensible to just flag the remainder as (potentially)  
paraphyletic, and get on with documenting the vast undescribed biota  
of the world...


Quoting Kenneth Kinman <kennethkinman at webtv.net>:

> 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
> indefinitely.
>       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
> comment:
> 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
> kingdom!
> Someone please go back in time an kill Hennig, before he invented
> cladistics!!! [just kidding!]
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