[Taxacom] panbiogeography critique

mivie at montana.edu mivie at montana.edu
Mon Jun 29 12:29:32 CDT 2009

Dear Michael,

You seem like a nice person, and well-meaning, and have interesting ideas,
but there are some marginalia that just require answers.

Jumping beyond (or lateral to) the actual data is a problem that needs to
be dealt with, as are the non sequiturs that seem to distract you.

1) I never said anything about ignoring Pierre Jolivet, and again, you use
the venue (Mol. Phylogen. Evol.) of a paper as some sort of indicator of
importance. Panbiogeographers often fall for this "validation by
authority" argument, but it is totally invalid. The CONTENT is what is
important, not the VENUE nor the AUTHORITY.

2) Further to that mindset, you mention there are "now hundreds of
publications dealing with panbiogeography" and, I might add thousands of
papers dealing with creationism, but this does not validate either.  There
are tens of thousand of non-panbiogeography papers using other
biogeography methods, but that does not make them valid either.  IT IS
CONTENT of the specific paper that counts -- this is not an election, nor
a beauty contest -- it is SCIENCE.

3) Nothing Haile Selassie said has anything to do with the beliefs of the
Rastafari (also known as Rastafarians -- sort of like nothing Jesus said
has anything to do with wars started by Christians). You are obviously
confused here, and should not delve into non sequiturs that you do not
understand -- it does not help your reputation. This one is my fault, but
continuing to be worried about what was simply a bad (and from a
culturally narrow context) joke is rather off the issue.

4) Cracraft in the review cited and in other works supports what makes
sense and can be scientifically utilized --  so what?  He is just doing
what most scientists do everyday.  While that is laudable, it should be
normal.  That single cited example of published exposure of the errors of
panbiogeography does not rely on the AUTHORITY of Joel Cracraft, but the
excellence of his logic.  There are many others, they are easy to find,
and I did not need to bother people with many when one served the purpose.
 To try to distract the audience with discussions of Cracraft as an
AUTHORITY does nothing to add to the discussion. Cracraft has made errors,
he is human, and therefore each paper must be read and evaluated like any

5) Lastly (for this series), science does not produce conclusions,  it
produces testable hypotheses.  Your own statement "One of the main
conclusions of panbiogeography," shows which camp it is in.

As for West Indian biogeography, the problems are many and well known.  I
find Jamaica pretty easy to get a handle on, as the large new land area
emerging from the sea was populated by individual propagules that would
allow, via founder effect, open niches and selective pressure, rapid
evolution of highly differentiated  forms.  Their oddity has resulted in
them being recognized at high taxonomic levels (endemic genera, etc.) in
the absence of good phylogenies that would probably not support that
placement in a monophyletic classification. It is therefore very different
from the older, vicariant faunae of the other, older, Greater Antilles.
This is a terrible example of ad hoc justification and an admitted
just-so-story, but it can be used as the starting point for refutable
hypotheses.  It should not be cited as a supported theory, but it helps me
through the day.

This is a very different situation from New Caledonia, which has basal
lineages that confound conventional wisdom, rather than terminal ones.

The so-called West Indian disjunctions may also benefit from phylogenetic
information to understand if, for instance, the Greater Antillean and
Windward Island groups are related via nodes rooted on the mainland rather
than via direct "tracks" (to use a term you understand, not to support
panbiogeography nor steal Leon's concepts without citation).   I.E. they
may be opposite ends of a "C" rather and an "I."

The Barbados issue is one that has 2 problems, both of which also apply to
Jamaica: first, the molecular clocks may be totally miscalibrated, and
second (and most importantly, I think), there is no reason to think the
LINEAGE that produced the Barbados population made a direct path from the
nearest KNOWN relative on the clock and where they both occur today.
Falling for that argument shows a total lack of understanding of both
geology and biology.  Yet, this type of error is repeatedly brought up by
panbiogeographers (see your own note below) much as creationists
repeatedly cite the purported lack of intermediates to claim to invalidate
evolution.  Either they don't understand the argument, which means they
are simply dim, or they willfully hope to mislead in order to convert the

Lastly, repeating ad nauseum the many, many problems with current
geological understanding; the many, many  places biology can show that the
geologists have a long way to go; and citing the thousands of terrible
papers on biogeography available as straw men, does nothing to validate
the tautological problems inherent in panbiogeography.  Again, just
because  "A" is wrong does not automatically support "B," especially when
"C-Z" are available as alternatives. A simple, elementary logic exercise
that has bored people since the ancient Greeks and perhaps before them.

I do not, for the most part, lament the passing of the Classical
Education, but I do wish we had kept required formal courses in logic.

> Dear Michael and colleagues,
> You ask whether I was kidding when I suggested you might read Pierre
> Jolivet's 2008 paper in the French journal Le Coleopteriste. The answer is
> no, I wasn't. Pierre has been publishing on beetles and plant/insect
> relations etc. since 1947. He has travelled very widely and remains very
> active (he had a paper in Mol. Phylogen. Evol. 34(3) 2005). I think it's a
> mistake to ignore these senior workers.
>     The orthodox teaching in the US still holds that panbiogeography
> is 'ridiculous', but south of the Rio Grande things are very different.
> There are now hundreds of publications dealing with panbiogeography (see
> the Brazilian website http://panbiog.infobio.net/bib/panbiog.htm for a
> bibliography).  
>    In a separate letter you suggested that the rastafarians
> were afrocentric. I don't know about your friends in the Lesser Antilles
> but Ras Tafari himself, in a famous speech to the UN, argued 'That until
> the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his
> eyes... the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of
> international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued
> but never attained'. This is not afrocentric.
>    You cite Cracraft's review of our book. Cracraft has indeed written
> critically on panbiogeogaphy, but note that he became a supporter of
> vicariance and in a recent paper on parrots (in Proc. Roy. Soc. London
> 274: 2399-2408. 2007) he is even arguing that high altitude Andean
> populations have been lifted up in situ, with the orogeny itself (he calls
> it "passive uplift"). Although this is a fundamental concept in
> panbiogeography he doesn't cite Croizat. (cf. Gould, who read
> Croizat's books,corresponded with Croizat (I have the letters),  and then
> 'borrowed' the ideas of punctuated evolution, 'spandrel' (non-adaptive)
> evolution etc. without  acknowledgment). The main thing of course is that
> the ideas are out there, not where they came from (they weren't original
> with Croizat anyway).       
>    Apart from these issues, your comments on Antillean biogeography are
> very interesting indeed. I've never been in the Lesser Antilles but I know
> Jamaica quite well and in many ways the Caribbean is the geological and
> biological mirror image of the SW Pacific (see my paper in Biol. J. Linn
> Soc. 96: 222-245. 2009 on globally 'basal' groups in both areas). One of
> the main conclusions of panbiogeography, now being confirmed in several
> molecular clock studies (e.g. on Lord Howe, the Loyalties, French
> Polynesia etc.), is that endemics on very young islands can be very
> old. The age of the island seems to be irrelevant and the age of the
> structure producing the island (subduction zone, propagating fissure or
> whatever) is more important. The taxa may survive around the subduction
> zone or fissure as metapopulations on the individually ephemeral islands.
> Even orthodox molecular clock studies (Thorpe 2005) concluded that
> Barbados endemic lizards are
>  older than the island. (It gets tricky because so many clock studies are
> calibrated using the assumption that island endemics can be no older than
> their island). More and more West Indian groups are being found to
> be sister to pan-American mainland groups, not nested in them as
> predicted in dispersal theory. Lesser Antillean groups can have diverse
> cosmopolitan sister groups (e.g. 'Cichlherminia' in thrushes). Geologists
> are at complete loggerheads over Caribbean history - one recent model has
> Cuba forming west of the Galapagos, another has it off the Guianas...  
>    This is where biology comes in as we have so much more information
> (large numbers!) than the geologists. Your observations on disjunctions
> between the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles are absolutely
> crucial and I'd love to see a detailed discussion of your patterns. These
> disjunctions (e.g. missing Puerto Rico and the northern Lesser Antilles)
> are common and were discussed at length by Croizat (do you know any other
> discussions oif this pattern??) but are now popping up in molecular
> studies. Just one example: the bird Myadestes genibarbis comprises endemic
> subspecies in  Jamaica , Hispaniola, and, disjunct,  Dominica, Martinique,
> St. Lucia and St Vincent.  Ricklefs & Bermingham (Am. Nat. 163, 227-239.
> 2004) found this distribution 'unexplainable', but they assumed a centre
> of origin on the mainland. Something is happening here, but they don't
> know what it is...
> Michael Heads  
> Wellington, New Zealand .
> My papers on biogeography are at: http://tiny.cc/RiUE0
> --- On Mon, 6/29/09, John Grehan <jgrehan at sciencebuff.org> wrote:
> From: John Grehan <jgrehan at sciencebuff.org>
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] panbiogeography critique
> To: "Fet, Victor" <fet at marshall.edu>, mivie at montana.edu
> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Date: Monday, June 29, 2009, 7:31 AM
> Yes, and Croizat was extremely anticommunist and apparently anti
> anything coming close to it.
> John Grehan
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
>> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Fet, Victor
>> Sent: Sunday, June 28, 2009 3:25 PM
>> To: mivie at montana.edu
>> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] panbiogeography critique
>> >>>>>>No, it is you who miss the point, I specifically included Leon
> as
>> non-comparable.  If you want someone to compare to, Trofim Lysenko is
> a
>> better example given the players.
>> Dr. Ivie - can I politely cut into the exciting fray and vehemently
> object
>> to your overreaching comparisons?
>> Lysenko, whose name may be less known to the young people on the
> Taxacom,
>> besides being a quack, was an avid and criminal henchman of a dictator
>> Stalin, personally guilty in suppression, misery, exile, imprisonment
> and
>> death of thousands of people, including my late teacher Yuli Kerkis.
>> Croizat should not be even remotely compared to such "players" even in
>> jest (and I doubt that he would join Hugo Chvez to offer a Bolivarist
>> biology).
>> Victor Fet
>> Marshall University
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