[Taxacom] Beyond the Drosophila melanogaster name change

Kenneth Kinman kennethkinman at webtv.net
Tue Apr 13 21:54:34 CDT 2010

Hi Kim and Richard,
      I think that we probably agree more than we disagree, certainly
more than the radical fringes on either side (especially those who are
overly reliant just on either molecular data or on morphological data).
I personally tend to initially concentrate on the molecular, but only if
it can then be verified with new morphological characters (as has been
shown to be an excellent approach in many cases of angiosperm
       However, there are also cases where an overreliance on molecular
data has resulted in premature (sometimes radical) changes in taxonomy.
Such cases result in a knee-jerk reaction (often justified) among more
traditional morphologists.  The real long-term winners are those who not
only have access to up-to-date and accurate information of both kinds of
data, but have the insight to balance one against the other.  The
long-term losers will rely to heavily on one set of data without
understanding the importance of the other.  Whether molecular or
morphology should be given more weight varies from one taxon to another,
often depending on what is available at any given point in time.     
     Of course, the debate between molecular and morphological data is
exacerbated by the somewhat separate debate between those who find
paraphyletic taxa useful (in moderation) and those who have been
convinced that any paraphyletic taxon is unnatural and to be eliminated
at any cost.  As someone who tends not only to favor moderate paraphyly,
but also a slight leaning toward molecules over morphology, I often find
myself attacked on BOTH sides.  Sort of like trying to be an Independent
in today's polarized U.S. Congress.  Those who attempt to follow a
moderate path often get attacked on both sides from less moderate
colleagues and less moderate constituents in their home districts.  In
biology, colleagues tend to have an even greater influence, and those
who have more colleagues that lean toward anti-paraphyly are more likely
to feel pressure to reflect (or give in to) an anti-paraphyly line.
Thus anti-paraphyly tends to be a majority viewpoint in places like the
American Museum in New York or University of California at Berkeley
(among others).  
      My own opinion is that extreme anti-paraphyly is a view
reminiscient to those also in New York City and California who thought
(or hoped) that real estates values would escalate indefinitely and that
Wall Street could do no wrong.  Ultimately, such trends all lead back to
Washington, D.C., where the pursestrings determine (rightly or wrongly)
where federal funds are concentrated.  Unfortunately money tends to
speak louder than intelligence, and the debate between extreme paraphyly
and extreme anti-paraphyly has left even a middle approach increasingly
in jeopardy.             
        It also reminds me of the "modern" tendency to embrace the idea
that "Archaebacteria" are actually the most primitive forms of life on
Earth.  But that is the most glaring example (in my mind) that molecular
data can be the most deceptive and harmful detour to understanding the
true phylogeny of the Tree of Life.          
         --------------Ken Kinman 
Kim wrote:
Agreed, although I am personally okay with deciding that two clades are
different species if the genetic difference is large enough not in
absolute terms, but comparatively with regard to the variation within
the two clades.

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