[Taxacom] The more you know the more you lump|split.

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Thu Jul 18 18:20:37 CDT 2013

Hi Jim,

> It would be interesting (and fun!) to know from the Taxacom faithful what
> arguments/research experiences would support either of these two views
> and which view they would most identify with.

I identify with both points of view, depending on the specific details of
the circumstance.  My own philosophy has drifted more towards:

"The more you know, the more you appreciate the importance of nomenclatural

I have always maintained that using (Linnean) nomenclature as the de-facto
proxy for representing phylogeny -- except for the most well-established and
uncontroversial groups -- is a practice that ultimately leads to more harm
than good.

Of course, we have a long tradition of using nomenclature (and
classification through nomenclatural clusterings) to represent
"relationships" -- and I think that's perfectly fine.  But nomenclature is a
tool for human-human communication that is simply not fit-for-purpose in
communicating phylogenies to the level of detail that our modern tools,
technologies, and practices encourage us to entertain.

If I were God of Taxonomy, I would impose a commandment: "Thou shalt not
destabilize existing nomenclature until the evidence supporting
nomenclatural destabilization has itself stabilized."  In other words: use
cladograms and other tricks/tools to communicate hypotheses about
phylogenetic relationships until there is a robust consilience of evidence
that is stable and non-controversial.  Once the evidence is stable, and the
evidence points to "relationships" that are incongruent with the existing
and otherwise stable nomenclature, *then* change the nomenclature as
appropriate (but even in that circumstance, I think it's a fool's errand to
endeavor to completely eliminate paraphyly from nomenclatural

The gap between prevailing hypotheses about phylogeny and scientific
nomenclature should be inversely proportional to the confidence in the
phylogeny (i.e., the greater the confidence, the smaller the gap).


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Database Coordinator for Natural Sciences
Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology
Dive Safety Officer
Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org

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