[Taxacom] More precise sound bite

Mario Blanco mblanco at flmnh.ufl.edu
Fri Mar 27 20:32:23 CDT 2009

This discussion is getting too long and going nowhere. Although it
should be obvious, no one in this thread has recognized that
classifications are mere instruments with no existence outside of the
human mind. Thus, there is no absolute superior classification. It's all
dependent of what your particular needs are. To say "my classification
is better than yours" is merely a matter of opinion, even if you are
defending a previously existing classification from a newer one. To do
that is trying to impose your preferred classification system on others.

The three main philosophical "camps" in terms of biological
classification seem to be: 1)"evolutionary taxonomy" (the one that does
not enforce monophyly; this is the term that has been applied to it and
does not imply superiority over the other camps; it uses Linnean ranks),
2) "cladistic taxonomy" (it also uses ranks but enforces monophyly for
taxa), and 3)"rankless taxonomy" (=Phylocode. It enforces monophyly for
named taxa but discards ranks). The three are pretty much irreconcilable
with each other.

Every taxonomist that proposes or defends a particular classification
scheme is attempting to attain a stable system, including the "cladistic
taxonomists" and even the phylocoders. Remember that absolute taxonomic
stability was the original driving force behind the Phylocode (not that
I would like to use basionyms as the valid names for every species, and
I am too used to ranked classifications to abandon them). But I have
come to realize that there will always be people in the three camps
pushing for their particular classification philosophies, because there
will always be different points of view. I am mostly interested in the
patterns of speciation and diversification, and thus I favor cladistic
taxonomy. But I no longer try to impose my views on others.

Whether we like it or not, the age of a single classification system is
over (if there ever was a universally accepted classification). What
everyone should do in their publications is be explicit about the
particular classification system they are following. And good
communication is what ultimately matters in biology.

Remember: a classification is JUST a way to organize information about
the organisms we study. It does NOT in itself generate information about
them. I know that having a uniform classification improves communication
between scientists, but the more time you spend fighting for a
particular classification, the less time you spend generating real data
about real organisms.

Just my two cents.

Mario A. Blanco
Department of Biology
University of Florida
227 Bartram Hall
Gainesville, FL 32611-8526

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