[Taxacom] Taxonomy (and ICZN) mention in The Scientist

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Tue Mar 8 10:09:58 CST 2011

Some scientists have claimed that taxonomy and systematics is not
science. Saying something is not science or not matters neither here not

John Grehan

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Zander
Sent: Tuesday, March 08, 2011 10:01 AM
To: Roderic Page; TAXACOM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Taxonomy (and ICZN) mention in The Scientist

I disagree. Species are adequately defined as basic units of taxonomy,
and most of us know that (1) differences in nature that sustain
different species over time requires that nature tells us what a species
is and we should not cram individuals into predefined species molds, and
(2) there is a spectrum of sorts in which species are well
characterized, then some with fuzzy boundaries, then through two
infraspecies that are fought over by the aggressive among us. No problem
there. Thus, the only problem is with fuzzy boundaries of some species.

Phylogenetics has wonderful methods that purport to discover fundamental
patterns in nature, and all else is mapped to these patterns
(structuralism, my macro). The method however is not consistent in that
patterns based on morphological analyses are commonly different in
particular respects from those from molecular analyses. Given that the
method is supposed to uncover evolution, phylogenetic methods per se are
not consistent. 

The methods can be made consistent by going outside phylogenetics and
advancing a scientific theory, such as a deep ancestral taxon surviving
to the present is the explanation for that taxon being basal in a
morphological cladogram and terminal in a molecular cladogram.

Using only phylogenetic methods and jumbling data from different
processes (fixation of expressed traits, and changes in mostly
non-coding molecular traits over time) scrambles both evolutionary
analysis and the resulting classifications. 

We can still do science, yes, but if you focus on mapping (relegating)
all information on evolution onto a cladogram that supposedly reflects a
fundamental pattern in nature, you are not doing science. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * 
Richard H. Zander 
Missouri Botanical Garden, PO Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA 
Web sites: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/ and
Modern Evolutionary Systematics Web site:

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Roderic Page
Sent: Tuesday, March 08, 2011 7:01 AM
Cc: Bob Mesibov
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Taxonomy (and ICZN) mention in The Scientist
I'm probably going to regret this, but here goes. I'd suggest that the
divide is not between morphological taxonomy and molecular taxonomy,

a) between those who have realised that "species" can be fuzzy and may
require sophisticated tools for their "discovery" (be it with molecules
or morphology) and those that expect the world to provide nice, clean,
macroscopic characters to delimit taxa. The world doesn't always work
this way, yet we can still do science.

b) between databases that underpin actual research (NCBI) and those that
don't (e.g., CoL, EOL).


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