[Taxacom] Clade age

Curtis Clark lists at curtisclark.org
Mon Nov 14 13:21:11 CST 2011

On 11/14/2011 8:40 AM, Richard Jensen wrote:
> Unfortunately, the one thing you and John agree on is a mistake.
> Definitions do matter.  They are essential for understandable
> communication.  If you are allowed to define "science" by your criteria,
> and I am allowed to define it by a different set of properties, then how
> can we ever communicate effectively?

Science is a human construct, and of course needs to be defined for 
effective discourse.

Many of us consider "carbon" to be a natural entity that exists 
independent of human perception. We could define it as all atoms with 
six protons, and as a "working definition", that's fine, but it's really 
a diagnosis, a summarization of a consistent observation.

Many of us consider "species" to be natural groupings of organisms that 
exist independent of human perception. It has been a while since 
scientists tried to define individual species (Linnaeus was one of the 
last famous examples), but people still try to define the "species 
concept". It seems to me a diagnosis is again the best approach: what 
are the commonalities of the entities we call species? Any single 
species "definition" will invariably leave out an entity that some group 
of competent biologists calls a species. And by defining "species", we 
end up knowing only what we know about it, without an easy route to 
learning more.

> John has made this argument before and it appears to be part of the
> problem in communicating with him.  His definitions often are quite
> different from those that many (most!) of us use and that only serves to
> create confusion and a lot of unnecessary exchanges on Taxacom.

John plays fast and loose with definitions of human constructs. I agree 
that this impedes communication, and I have called him out on it. But to 
me this is quite different from defining or refusing to define observed 
entities in nature.

Curtis Clark http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/
Professor, Biological Sciences                   +1 909 979 6371

Curtis Clark                  http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/
Professor, Biological Sciences                   +1 909 979 6371

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