[Taxacom] Methodological plurality [was cladistic analysis for morphological characters -- UPGMA is not cladistics]

Robert Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Wed Nov 21 20:05:45 CST 2012

Dan Lahr wrote:

"Bob O'Hara has a great quote in one of his papers that says that big questions in science are never solved, they just dissipate as people figure out that they didn't matter, but they are important in the development of science."

Is this the paper you mean?: http://rjohara.net/cv/1993-sb  O'Hara quotes John Dewey from 1910:

"Old ideas give way slowly, for they are more than abstract logical forms and categories. They are habits, predispositions, deeply engrained attitudes of aversion and preference. Moreover, the conviction persists—though history shows it to be a hallucination—that all the questions that the human mind has asked are questions that can be answered in terms of the alternatives that the questions themselves present. But in fact intellectual progress usually occurs through sheer abandonment of questions together with both of the alternatives they assume—an abandonment that results from their decreasing vitality and a change of urgent interest. We do not solve them: we get over them. Old questions are solved by disappearing, evaporating, while new questions corresponding to the changed attitude of endeavor and preference take their place."

A few years back (as discoverable in the Taxacom archives) I was seriously concerned that systematics was displacing alpha taxonomy. One reason was that I didn't see enthusiastic tree-builders taking much interest in discovering new species. If you got a tree, by whatever method, then you had a rough-enough structure for your particular interest (classification, phylogeny, biogeography). The tree structure wasn't going to be drastically changed by addition of more terminals, so why bother looking for them? Aiming for the One True Tree was the research goal, and new species were just going to add minor refinements, or noise.

I'm sensing a slow shift in the literature back to an emphasis on species biology, in which species relationships are sort of interesting but not the really cool things worth studying. If I'm right, then 'What method did you use, and why?' is a question we may be 'getting over'.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Agricultural Science, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
Ph: (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195

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