[Taxacom] Phylogenetic classification? (and a masterpiece by Knox)

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Sun Jul 26 22:38:00 CDT 2009

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with phylogenetic (cladistc)  
classification - it is just that although it solves some problems, it  
creates others (cake and eat it syndrome!) It solves the problem of  
instability due to subjectivity, but instead creates instability due  
to incompleteness of data. I guess the HOPE is that one day, data will  
be complete, so it is temporary instability (that's the theory,  
anyway!) Furthermore, the really BIG evil of phylogenetics is that it  
has become a bandwagon which has taken over and pushed taxonomy to the  
sidelines, outcompeting it for funding (new toy syndrome!) Someone of  
note in the taxonomic world recently told me that he turned his back  
on phylogenetics for the reason that 90+% of all the species that have  
ever lived are extinct and unlikely to be found as fossils (or if  
found as fossils, then unlikely to be informative enough to be  
useful). With so much missing information, data will never be even  
remotely complete. Also, my worry, though I'm not really up on the  
relevant details, is that I haven't seen a proof that cladistic  
methodology is even likely to uncover the evolutionary truth.  
Objectivity alone doesn't imply truth: let's all follow an algorithm  
so that the outputs depend only on the inputs and not on who is doing  
it. Great, we all get the same answer - but, er, is it the truth????


Quoting Thomas Lammers <lammers at uwosh.edu>:

>>> As for "the coup de grace that this flawed philosophy deserves", I  
>>> believe that it already exists in an
> excellent, 49-page, masterpiece (Knox, 1998).<<
> Yes, I am quite familiar with Eric's paper, and agree it is  
> excellent.  Eric has one of the sharpest minds in the business.  But  
> it's not a coup de grace if the intended victim is still alive and  
> causing trouble more than a decade later.  A real coup de grace  
> would make everyone slap their heads and cry, "Jeez, how could we  
> have been so foolish???"
> Thomas G. Lammers, Ph.D.
> Associate Professor and Curator of the Herbarium
> Department of Biology and Microbiology
> University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
> http://www.uwosh.edu/departments/biology/Lammers.htm
> http://www.kewbooks.com/asps/ShowDetails.asp?id=615
> http://www.mbgpress.info/index.php?task=id&id=90602&PHPSESSID=f90c364c85bd4dfdc69b74060450dc79
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