[Taxacom] Reproducibility of descriptive data

Pierre Deleporte pierre.deleporte at univ-rennes1.fr
Thu Sep 10 09:58:54 CDT 2009


       Anchoring and delimiting  

I cast anchor with a long, long chain,
it hardly anchored anything at all
 
I cast anchor with a short, short chain,
it anchored pretty well and I was nearly drowned

I cast an anchor with no chain at all,
it anchored just itself, and strictly nothing else  

the anchor was a stone I choosed to pick around,
and the chain had a look of human artifact

I questioned the stone about its feelings

the stone didn't know it could be an anchor,
it didn't even know that it was a stone,
and other stones around didn't care more

while nobody thought of questioning the chain  


Pierre...    playing deliberately "evasive methaphors game",
while agreeing with Peter Hovenkamp that educated argument should be 
more efficient,
at least to try and avoid talking at cross-purposes for mere semantic 
reasons,
and to try remaining rational, realist and non-ambiguous in our 
scientific conceptions and wordings -

tentative exercise: 

-  a species has no collective brain, it cannot "know" by itself what it 
can be (see: Mike Dallwitz and Pete deVries below) - so, the metaphor is 
rather misleading;

-  a species has no material coherence, it certainly does not "exist" as 
a self-consistent material system out there - so, we have to delineate 
species some convenient way (cf recent posts by Stephen Thorpe and 
discussions); now, if you define a species exactly like a population or 
a social group, then you badly need another term for "species" in the 
common sense(s);

-  interfecondability (*not* effective interfecondation) is not an 
object, and not a material "fact" (= not a change in a material system); 
it is a property, hence a concept - so we can decide to define / 
delineate a given "species" as the class of organisms sharing this 
property (or supposed to be sharing it): right or wrong, we are 
conceptually attributing (pleonasm) the property of interfecondability 
to a series of individuals;

-  a class is of course a concept, by the way; and all scientific 
explanations are concepts (the corresponding "facts" are not the 
concepts themselves, but the instances of 'minding' of such concepts by 
given brains; a matter of scientific inquiry for cognitive 
neurophysiologists and psychologists);

-  biological concepts of effective material processes (like 
interfecondation really occurring) can be realist; concepts of 
attributing biological properties to given series of individuals (like 
interfecondability, or carrying similar morphological characters) can be 
realist; but classificatory concepts properly (like delineating a taxon 
according to some taxonomic concept) can just be convenient and useful 
according to some specification.

-  it is difficult to be realist regarding the world out there, this is 
the ultimate goal of the whole enterprise of scientific explanation;
but frequently, the more difficult seems to be realist regarding what we 
are really doing,
and then to communicate efficiently (e.g. not like this wordy post!... ;-)

-  metaphors can underline and help memorizing an educated argument, not 
replace it.
approximately: if a stone is a type with a name carved in it, and a 
chain a taxonomic delineating concept,
then you're fine and well with the chain only, until you need to name it;
and you're fine and well with the stone only, until you unfortunately 
find something possibly looking like another stone, but maybe not...

not that I consider myself a 'smart ass' (?) at sound arguments and 
pedantic metaphors,
simply, notions like "phenetic characters", "clades as individuals" or 
"natural classifications" are still haunting my nightmares;
to say nothing of how scientists should communicate with the lay people, 
if not efficiently among themselves to begin with...
clearly, something must be done. 



Mike Dallwitz wrote : 

Don't buy this.  At all.  And I do not think the codes do either.  Nor
many/most taxonomists.   The type does not define the species (which
are in nearly every case variable).  It is an exemplar (not always
'typical' in the English sense) which anchors the name.  The extreme
example of this are species that have multiple synonymic types.  In a
type-defined species, concepts of lumping and splitting have no
meaning - yet we all do it.

Have a chat to Pete deVries.  He would argue that a species knows what
a species is and does not care what we call it or think it is.  Humans
develop a concept of what we think it is, sometimes (maybe even often)
a reasonably good approximation of what a species knows it is.  And we
give a name to this human concept.

There are three things: a species entity, a species concept and
species name.  The first is defined by biology and evolution, the
second by humans, and the third is defined by the code and selected by
humans.

The problem we have, and why taxacom exists at all, is someone utters
the third, a listener assumes the first, without considering the
second, of which there are often several alternatives.



Stephen Thorpe wrote:
> (...) the main point I am trying to make is that there is a HUGE difference in kind between genera and species, namely that the latter is grounded in scientific facts, while the former is determined only (subject to monophyly) by subjective choice/opinion/convention/usage ...
>
> Stephen
>
> ________________________________________
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Mary Barkworth [Mary at biology.usu.edu]
> Sent: Thursday, 10 September 2009 11:46 a.m.
> To: Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Reproducibility of descriptive data
>
> So what is your answer? Once every five years? Ten years? 100 years?
> 1000 years? And fertility of offspring - 100%? 5%? 1% And are people
> that disagree - preferring 20% - wrong?
>
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-- 
Pierre Deleporte
Université de Rennes 1
CNRS UMR6552 Ethologie Animale et Humaine 
Station Biologique de Paimpont
F-35380 Paimpont   FRANCE
Téléphone : 02 99 61 81 63
Télécopie : 02 99 61 81 88 

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