[Taxacom] natural paraphyly (was: stem eudicots of NCBI)

Kenneth Kinman kennethkinman at webtv.net
Thu Mar 31 21:52:30 CDT 2011

Hi John,
      Although there was no doubt too much paraphyly back in the heyday
of Hennig (1950s-1960s), that was largely and often understandably due
to a paucity (or total lack) of molecular information in those
transitional decades in the middle of the 20th Century (although
admittedly some of it was no doubt due to sloppiness or laziness).  So
although Hennig's counterrevolution was understandable, it was also (in
the larger scheme of things) an unfortunate overreaction.  Eventually
this lead to a future and corresponding sloppiness and laziness among
some cladists.      
       Instead of totally rejecting paraphyletic taxa, he should have
taken a middle course that rejected ONLY excessive paraphyly.  Such
extreme pendulum swings are never a good thing, and the result was a
total condemnation of ALL paraphyletic taxa as not only unuseful, but
also unnatural.  The most ardent of his followers (especially in some of
the larger universities and museums on the east and west coasts of the
United States) began perpetuating the myth that all paraphyletic taxa
are unnatural, and thus began the widespread teaching of this kind of
paraphylophobic indoctrination.  Although it may have set the stage for
improvement in some quarters, it also allowed some sloppy and lazy
"cladists" to swing much too far in the opposite direction.            
       In any case, an excess of paraphyly is clearly not a good thing
given our current (improved) understanding of phylogeny (as well as the
vagaries of extinction that have wiped out many taxa with no fossil
record whatsoever).  However, neither is the excess of TOTAL holophyly,
which clearly eliminates important ancestor-descendant information from
their strictly cladistic classifications (labelled cladifications by
Ernst Mayr).  Very few taxa can be totally (or largely) cladified, and
those only because their higher taxa are resistant to extinction events
(especially bacteria, fungi, and plants whose seeds remain dormant
during the crisis).    
      So a lot of strict cladists now continue to reject even limited
paraphyly for no logical reason beyond indoctrination.  Some others
perhaps because they are too lazy to go the extra step of converting
cladograms (too often overly simplistic) into something that
incorporates a more complex level of understanding.   Perhaps others for
these reasons as well as the tendency of U.S governmental funding
agencies to continue the inordinate funding of researchers who reflect
that extreme philosophy (and know the code words that tend to perpetuate
continued funding given that tendency).  As Richard Zander has noted,
they therefore too often do not take that extra step to incorporate more
important and wider diachronic considerations and thus just let their
computers spit out simplistic dichotomies that don't truly reflect
reality and thus they are converted into simplistic cladifications that
are too often doomed to failure in the future.  Governmental agencies
are notorious for taking such short cuts and ignore the long term
       Therefore they are too often creating more problems for
classifcation than paraphyly ever did.  They are an overreactive
pendulum swing that is badly in need of a moderate reversal.  All things
in moderation!!!!   You pump too much federal funding into anything
(including cladifications), and it too often gets sloppy and even
counterproductive in the long run.  
               ---------Ken Kinman    

John Grehan wrote:  
And others may agree that it is paraphyly that inflicts problems on

-----Original Message----- 
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at
mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Zander 
Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2011 11:16 AM 
To: Kenneth Kinman; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] stem eudicots of NCBI 
I think we agree on the problems inflicted on classification by strict
phylogenetic monophyly as a classification principle (not a theory or
scientific anything), Ken. All other disagreement is small stuff. 
* * * * * * * * * * * * 
Richard H. Zander 

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