[Taxacom] sloppy cladistic analyses

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Tue Feb 2 21:51:57 CST 2010

I'm not sure that the internet is to blame here. It seems to me to be more an intrinsic problem to cladistic analysis itself. Anything that involves numbers is prone to transcription errors, and the nature of some people increases the chances of this happening. How many cladistic analyses get checked for coding errors? This problem on top of the other major problem that most of the relevant data is missing (because only a minute fraction of taxa have been informatively preserved as fossils), not to mention subjectivity in character weighting, polarity estimations, and outgroup choice, and what is the worth of such analyses???

From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Kenneth Kinman [kennethkinman at webtv.net]
Sent: Wednesday, 3 February 2010 4:18 p.m.
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] sloppy cladistic analyses

Dear All:
      Although I don't ALWAYS agree with Michael Mortimer, his cladistic
analyses are far better than most.  Therefore, I find his following
critique of many recent cladistic practices and shortcomings very
seriously.  It reflects a broader problem among computer generated
so-called "information" and an alarming trend of  internet
DISINFORMATION now competing with or even outpacing good information.
       What one now finds on the internet, including scientific
information, must increasingly be taken with a huge grain of salt.  The
truism about computers in the hands of more sloppy users is
unfortunately an increasing reality:  "garbage in, garbage out."  This
is certainly true of cladistic analyses by those who just don't
critically evaluate the codings of previously analyses and just cut and
paste them and add a few of their own.  Adding a little new information
to a database riddled with garbage, and the garbage can overwhelm the
new information (whether the new information might be helpful or not).
As Mortimer says, it can give a false impression of consensus in
something that may or may not be true.  Here's a link to his concerns:



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