[Taxacom] SUSPECT: RE: New book on species

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Tue Sep 8 10:54:05 CDT 2009

I looked up objective in an online dictionary (Cambridge Dictionary of American EnglishCambridge Dictionary of American English), Stephen, and it is defined as:
"not influenced by personal beliefs or feelings; fair or real. 
The opposite of objective is subjective. "

The same dictionary indicated that subjective is:
"influenced by or based on personal beliefs or feelings, rather than based on facts 
The opposite of subjective is objective (FAIR OR REAL). "


Soooo, if you say opinions are subjective, that's okay to some extent, but opinions are almost always based on a hypothesis with some factual support. So opinions, particularly well-informed opinions, have an objective element. The opinion of a plumber or rocket scientist is backed up by (1) plenty of experience, and (2) his/her loss of face/funds if wrong. Same goes for a taxonomist, unless you subscribe to the postmodern idea that there is no substance in taxonomy, whose publications are just snips stuck together from other publications in different ways, making "stories" to amuse the gullible with nothing better to do.


And if beliefs are objective, why is subjective defined as "influenced by or based on personal beliefs"? I think your dichotomy is unfair (subjective), which would be objective of me if everyone accepted the dictionary definitions given above (fat chance). 


I think there is always some spectrum of mixed facts and opionions involved in historical explanations like basing classification on one-time historical events (splitting lineages), but there really is such a thing as statistical certainty, well-documented observations (facts), informed opinion, and for many, many groups a consensus that traditional taxonomy has generated a good classification reflecting present-day results of past evolution in the context of the environment and its changes or sometimes long-term changelessness resulting in a good undertanding of both sister-group and ancestor-descendant relationships.

Richard H. Zander
Missouri Botanical Garden
PO Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166 U.S.A.
richard.zander at mobot.org


From: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz]
Sent: Mon 9/7/2009 9:53 PM
To: Richard Zander; Kipling (Kip) Will; TAXACOM at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: SUSPECT: RE: [Taxacom] New book on species

> "Fallible beliefs"? Very postmodern
No, not postmodern, just plain English made clear! I said it in the context of a discussion about whay subjectivity and opinion mean (in relation to the issues at hand)
I made the distinction between an opinion (which is subjective) and a belief (which is objective)
Some people claim that species boundaries are opinions (like genus boundaries), but I claim that they are beliefs (unlike genus boundaries)
If I identify a chimp as Homo sp., and you disagree, there is no objective basis for the disagreement, but if I identify the chimp as Homo sapiens, then I am just plain wrong!
By the way, the 'Richard' I referred to wasn't you! At least not according to my concept ... er, opinion ... er, belief ...

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