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

Weakley, Alan weakley at bio.unc.edu
Thu Jul 18 21:31:18 CDT 2013


Put another way, and perhaps as a more direct reaction to what Jim and Robin wrote, I think the lumping v. splitting 'dichotomy' (it isn't really) is as much psychological as scientific.  In almost any taxonomic group that is moderately to greatly difficult, the more one looks, the more variation there is.  Most of this variation IS (in my experience) morphologically and genetically "real" if observed carefully, and the morphology and genetics also are likely to be correlated with geography and/or habitat.  So, when confronted with an intricately complicated pattern of correlated morpho-genetic-geographic-habitat pattern of variation (not to imply that all these are wonderfully and perfectly correlated -- there's the rub) one can choose to A) taxonomically recognize the variation (at whatever rank), explaining away the problematic imperfections of the splits, or one can B) lump, invoking "complex patterns of variation, making taxonomic segregation impractical" [or some variant of that language].  

I think A vs. B has a lot more to do with personality, stage in career, practicalities of publication, scientific fashion of the time (or opinion of one's mentor) than objective  decision-making against an agreed-on scientific standard.  Experience enters into the A vs. B choice, but complicatedly -- some specialists split more and more as they gain insight and experience with a group, others lump more and more.  I hope that this reflects a careful analysis of the pros and cons of a more split or more lumped treatment for the group that comes with age, wisdom, and experience, and often that is the case -- but experience suggests that that is not always the case.

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Weakley, Alan
Sent: Thursday, July 18, 2013 10:03 PM
To: Robin Leech; 'Beach, James H.'; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] The more you know the more you lump|split.

By rigorous concept mapping of the eastern United States vascular flora, one can demonstrate cyclical phases of lumping and splitting.  Some of the cycling has been silly, faddish, and reactionary (both directions) to the previous phase.  Put favorably though, the alternation of lumping and splitting (bellows in, bellows out) has generated at this time the most accurate portrayal of the "true taxonomy" ever available --  so we do progress.  I have my own opinion about The Truth, but let us not demonize either lumpers or splitters as knowing "less" or "more":  they each contribute from their own perspective.  Sometimes "knowing more" leads to lumping, sometimes to splitting.  AND, without a clear "stopping rule" or clear definitions of ranks (which are practically and philosophically impossible) there is no objective "right answer", so "knowing more" can lead with equal validity in both directions.  For better or for worse, I think we are stuck with constructive ambiguity --- some taxonomic treatments are demonstrably wrong, but other (and differing) treatments are demonstrably and equally right -- but have varying scientific philosophies and practical benefits.  

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Robin Leech
Sent: Thursday, July 18, 2013 7:04 PM
To: 'Beach, James H.'; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] The more you know the more you lump|split.

Hi Jim B, 

There are weaknesses in those two positions.

Sometimes the more you know, the more you think you know, so the more you tend to lump things. 
(everything is the same with just variations, so they are all represent just one species)

And the corollary is:

Sometimes the less you know, the more you study the problem, so the more you tend to split things. 
(everything is different, and with more study, the differences come to represent species level) 

Robin

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Beach, James H.
Sent: July-18-13 4:06 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] The more you know the more you lump|split.

Jason Mate's comment:

> On the other hand, the pursuit of "meaningful" higher taxa has lead to
provincialism and oversplitting. 
> By this I mean that the longer and harder you look at something the 
> more you see of it but the less around it and this leads taxonomists 
> along
the path of believing that their group is so unique that it deserves a classification to match.

reminded me of a rule of thumb that was a favorite of my plant systematics
101 professor:

"The more you know the more you lump."

The other camp (to make this a good binary discussion) is of course:

"The more you know the more you split"

I have an interest in psycho/social/professional influences of how people, starting with young kids, classify the world into self/not-self and later same/not-same as they learn more about it. 

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.

Jim B.

James H. Beach
Biodiversity Institute
University of Kansas
1345 Jayhawk Boulevard
Lawrence, KS 66044 USA

Office: 785-864-4645
Cell: 785-331-8508



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