[Taxacom] panbiogeography critique

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Mon Jun 29 11:41:23 CDT 2009

Michael Ivie characterized Croizat's writings as thousands of pages of
gibberish and that Croizat being right on something is a correlate of
the chimpanzee or orangutan pounding on a typewriter and occasionally
producing a sentence.

The trouble with such characterizations is that they are made without
substance. Croizat had his own style, but it was not gibberish any more
than modern biogeographic papers (that in my view sometimes do read like

One could pick and chose I suppose, but since most biogeographers have
probably never bothered with Croizat (and in my experience so far, most
found his writings objectionable because they did not have the patience
or interest to read about the spatial details of biogeography) I have
excerpted a couple of paragraphs below that pertain to his geological
hypothesis for the Americas. I think they read well enough to be
understood here even without the remaining text, and they make it clear
that Croizat makes his geological prediction not as an accident, but as
a necessary outcome of the biogeographic facts - prediction that was
later geologically corroborated. If anyone wants to argue about the
views expressed in these paragraphs that is fine with me if they have
also read the overall text within which they were written.

p. 77 Main massings and major "tracks" and channels are the biological
expression of basic geologic underlying realities. Flesh and rocks
evolve together. There is reason of the strongest why the biogeography
of the New World (and all the earth) does not necessarily agree with its
present geography. This biogeography is primarily answerable as a matter
of fact indeed to former geographies, not to the current one.

p. 79 Let us assume that instead of being, as of today, of a single
piece in geography the American Continent was at some geological time
past of two pieces, one western, the other eastern; which two pieces
eventually 'floated' to get together in current geography. Let us cast
the dispersal of Drosera and Halenia generally to fun on these discrete
pieces (Fig. 8), and next inquire whether when coming together these two
discrete pieces would alter that dispersal in any manner really to
count. The answer is that the change, vital as it could be in the sense
of geophysics, would surely not make much different in that of
biogeography, for Western and Eastern America would still differentially
hold the dispersal of Drosera and Halenia, respectively. Figure 8 is
undoubtedly crude, yet what it displays is enough, I believe, to reveal
that "floating continents" need not necessarily be incompatible with
quite orderly dispersal, of course within certain limits. I do
underscore, because the very moment within geophysics might claim
something which dispersal cannot allow, the certain limits in question
would be prohibitive even against a science of geophysics and all its

John Grehan

Dr. John R. Grehan

Director of Science

Buffalo Museum of Science1020 Humboldt Parkway

Buffalo, NY 14211-1193

email: jgrehan at sciencebuff.org

Phone: (716) 896-5200 ext 372




Ghost moth research


Human evolution and the great apes



> -----Original Message-----
> From: mivie at montana.edu [mailto:mivie at montana.edu]
> Sent: Sunday, June 28, 2009 12:06 PM
> To: John Grehan
> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] panbiogeography critique
> I know I am going to regret this....
> Croizat being right on something is a correlate of the chimpanzee (or
> Orang if you prefer) pounding on a typewriter and occasionally
producing a
> sentence.  In thousands of pages of gibberish, something would be
> by random coincidence.  This is the major error of panbiogeographers:
> confusing the coincidental accident with ex post facto verification.
> I have been attracted to Panbiogeography at 3 points in my career, the
> most recent just a couple years ago. I have spent most of my career
> working in the West Indies, and 30 years ago knew a huge amount about
> West Indian Biogeography worked.  Over the last 30 years what I know
> been dramatically decreased -- the more I learned, the less I know.
> Today, as I write this from St. Lucia, I am mostly just confused on
> subject.  I doubt we will really understand the region without a major
> improvement in our understanding of its physical origins and history
> differs from what we think today.
> Recently, I spent 5 years working on the tiny Lesser Antillean island
> Montserrat. The geologic history of the island and region seem pretty
> clear, it is a volcano in a line of volcanoes.  However, the more I
> learned about its fauna, the more weird anomalies I found that made it
> more Greater Antillean than any of its sister islands.  Attempts to
> this problem by more sampling of surrounding islands (hyp: the
> observed are due to under-sampling of intervening islands) did not
> It just reinforced the oddities.
> The only answer seemed that there was something unknown that made
> Montserrat's history different from the surrounding islands, that
> something being totally beyond current geologic understanding.
> This lead me to reexamine Panbiogeography, thinking maybe I had missed
> something the first 2 times.  I reread what I could stomach of the
> literature (passing on a reread of Croizat himself). But, again, for
> third time, it let me down.  It produces an ex post facto narrative
with a
> seductively attractive answer that fits the data, but it is circular
> inherently unscientific in the end.  It does produce predictions, but
> those predictions can only be supported by possibly random
> and cannot be refuted by non-corresponding data, as those are
explained by
> the same method as just other tracks, not refutation of the one
> proposed.  Like religion, panbiogeography will explain any discovered
> annomaly.
> Plus, certain of its practitioners are so bizarre!  [NOTE: THIS REFERS
> equivalents of someone who believes in some random but brilliant guy
> New York finding golden tablets in an unknown language descended from
> Egyptian, finding truth there, sending the tablets away with an angel,
> then founding a religion that is centered in an isolated geographic
> setting.  The followers then use the "fact" of the tablets to justify
> their current beliefs, and tend to feel anyone who disagrees is
> them and their divinely revealed truth.  Plus, they are very anxious
to be
> viewed as mainstream, not marginal.
> Correspondingly, panbiogeographers believe in some random but
> guy in Venezuela, hammering out a series of books in a language that
> descended from English (but not quite there), whose followers form a
> colony in New Zealand, and believe with all their heart and sole that
> have discovered truth, but that the rest of the world is out to attack
> them.  They do send out missionaries, etc.  And, they are desperate --
> desperate -- to be seen as a mainstream valid science, not marginal.
> However, while this approach makes excellent religion, it does not
> good science.  Not a group I want to be associated with.  If the
> was more validly based, it would attract a wider, perhaps nearly
> universal, following.  The fact that it does not makes its
> very much like the persecuted self-validating members of minority
> religions -- very sure of their superiority and of their eventual
> vindication and salvation in this world or the next.
> Michael
> >
> >> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of mivie at montana.edu
> >>
> >> Clearly should have stayed out of this discussion, it is not going
> >> change anything by getting into  it, but sometimes I go over the
> >> Spending your life in a wheelchair can make you grumpy, I am
> > But
> >> a few corrections:
> >
> > No worries. Anyone who participates on this list is probably "over
> > edge".
> >
> >> > Michael feels
> >> > that panbiogeography is ridiculous and teaches his students this,
> >>
> >> Again, not what I said.
> >
> > The quote is " I and many others still ridicule panbiogeography at
> > opportunity -- I did it this morning with some students."
> >
> > So I think Heads can be forgiven to interpreting "I did it this
> > with some students" to mean "that panbiogeography is ridiculous and
> > teaches his this".
> >
> > I do ridicule it, but mostly because of the
> >> bizarre practitioners, and never in an actual teaching environment.
> >
> > But see above.
> >
> > In what way are the practioners "bizarre"?
> >
> > It is
> >> hard to actually talk about Croizat's books with a straight face
> > you
> >> actually tried to read them?).
> >
> > Yes I have read them. Also read plenty of 'standard' books that are
> > sometimes no better or worse.
> >
> > In the conversation I cited, I was having
> >> a discussion with grad students and am guilty as admitted of
> > but
> >> not as stated above.
> >
> > Clarification understood, but the inference was reasonable I think.
> >
> >> Mainstream religion believes in talking snakes, but that does not
> > it
> >> good science.
> >
> > But in science publishers such as OUP seem to be pretty conservative
> > citing other fields may not be germane. If the nature of the
> > has no bearing on being mainstream, then the opinions by critics of
> > method don't really add to much either. They are just opinions that
> > or may not be correct. But some comments below.
> >
> > Cracraft's "oversimplistic interpretation" claim my or may not be
> > correct. But if "oversimplistic" interpretations result in
> > geological predictions then so what?
> >
> >> "Most applications of the panbiogeography
> >> method tend towards the narrative rather than the analytical"
> >
> > This could be said of all dispersalist accounts (the analysis being
> > phylogeny, the narrative being the dispersalist claims). This claim
> > about panbiogeography ignores the fact that the panbiogeographic
> > is analytical.
> >
> >> "...they strongly advocate using biogeographic distributions
> >> as evidence of phylogenetic relationships, but their examples have
> >> preconceived notions of relationships built into them."
> >
> > Who knows what this might mean. The fact is that the use of
> > biogeographic relationships has generated phylogenetic predictions
> > have been later corroborated through biological analysis.
> >
> >> "The authors are strong supporters of the importance of
> >> but they are short on specific analytical procedures of how
> > biogeography might be used to infer relationships."
> >
> > Hard to figure that one out.
> >
> >> Serious problems inherent in the Panbiogeography method, which have
> > been
> >> documented in the literature ad nauseum.
> >
> > No they have not. Just theoretical objections to a method that
> > That's the bottom line - the method does work. No one has
> > that the standard tracks and nodes do not exist, that there are no
> > basin correlations of global patterns of distribution, that there
are no
> > centers of basal evolution, that there are no correlations between
> > distribution and tectonics, that Croizat was wrong about the
> > of the Galapagos or the Americas. One can theoretically debate any
> > method theoretically, but the bottom line is the result (in my
> >
> > John Grehan
> >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> >
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