[Taxacom] Binomial Nomenclature - was: "cataloguing hypotheses & not real things"

Fred Schueler bckcdb at istar.ca
Thu Sep 5 12:57:14 CDT 2013

On 9/5/2013 1:38 PM, Richard Pyle wrote:
> Hmmmm....
> I've never understood this whole "species are hypotheses" thing.  I
> certainly get how a clade is a hypothesis, and I suppose that if you think
> of a species as a clade then you could frame the hypothesis along the lines
> of "all individual members of this species share a more recent common
> ancestor with each other than they do with any other species".
> How would you frame the hypotheses for a species?

* just looking at the situation with sexual reproduction and overlapping 
or parapatric distributions: "Individuals with characteristics listed in 
the diagnosis of species A are much more closely connected by 
interbreeding with other individuals with those characteristics than 
they are with individuals with the characteristics of listed for other 

The hypothesis is the connection between the characteristics, and the 
circumscription they provide, and evidence for genetic exchange, which 
may be behavioural, other kinds of evidence (e.g., genetic), or 
meta-patterns of the same characteristics (inter- or nonintergradation 
on local or geographic scales).

"It is certainly true that the biological species concept is not very 
operational, but, as I have argued elsewhere, no theoretically 
significant concept in science is." Hull, 1979.

fred (scampering into flame-proof headgear).

  Given two type specimens
> for two available names, where the phylogenetic affinity is not in dispute,
> but where lumpers see a single species with a synonym, and splitters see two
> distinct species -- what, exactly, is the basis of the hypothesis that
> allows you to objectively determine if there is one species, or two?
> Traditionally, such a hypothesis could be framed thusly:
> "Any given organism that shares a more recent common ancestor with the type
> specimen of Species 'A' than with species 'B'; can reproduce with any given
> organism that shares a more recent common ancestor with the type specimen of
> Species 'B' than with species 'A', and produce fertile offspring [in
> nature]."
> However, this traditional view (BSC) tends to break down in terms of how
> lines between species are drawn these days.  Perhaps someone could state the
> hypothesis represented by a species in other species concept paradigms?
> Ashley wrote:
>> Yes I do understand these things and the practical issues involved.
> However,
>> names are not just names -- they represent someone's hypothesis (good or
>> bad). Hypotheses do not disappear just because names become synonyms --
>> this is bad empirical science! The problem is that species hypotheses
> cannot
>> be verified or falsified because species are mental constructs (extremely
>> helpful mental constructs) and not real objects.
> I agree with the second part of this ("mental constructs"), but the text
> above seems to me to be self-contradictory.  My understanding of a
> "hypothesis" is consistent with what I found on Wikipedia:
> "A hypothesis (plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for a
> phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific
> method requires that one can test it."
> I assume we're talking about scientific hypotheses here.  In an earlier
> post, you had referenced Popper's World 2 (the world of mental objects) --
> which I think is appropriate in the context of what we refer to as species.
> However, Popper was also of the school that a hypothesis must be
> falsifiable. Even the more liberal interpretation of hypothesis that
> accommodates verifiability is not met per your statements above (and I
> agree!). If, as we seem to agree, species hypotheses can neither be verified
> nor falsified, then whose notion of a hypothesis do they represent?
>> Have you ever taken an
>> entire species (every individual) into the laboratory and objectified it?
>> Species hypotheses are abstractions very often from limited data.
>> Taxonomists do their best under the circumstances. If you want certainty,
>> which these lists demand, then become a dictator -- as they seem to live
> in a
>> very certain world!
> While we seem to be in full agreement on the notion of species as
> non-objective entities (certainly in practice, and, perhaps, conceptually as
> well); I'm not sure we have a mutual understanding of what "these lists"
> (i.e., the digital world catalogues about which this thread was begun) are
> intended for.  I know many of the people who develop "these lists", and not
> a single one of them regards them  as demanding of certainty.  They are not
> intended to be *the* answer, forever and for all.  They are intended as a
> consensus view to serve the needs of the VAST majority of consumers of
> biological information -- who simply want to know which, of several
> alternative views (e.g., lumpers v. splitters) to follow in naming the
> entities they wish to refer to.  These global catalogues are NOT static --
> they evolve as the community perception evolves, and as more information
> becomes available.  They are in no way dictatorial. Rather, they are a
> convenience -- they represent a *service* for positing a snapshot of the
> biodiversity landscape in time.  Their value is in their relative stability
> among a sea of competing views (i.e., "noise").
> In short, there certainly are folks who wallow in the notion of "species are
> objective entities in nature, independent of human perception"; but the
> people who compile global catalogs of species with assertions about
> classifications and synonymies are generally not among them.
>> However, we must not confuse
>> hypotheses/ideas/tradition/analyses or superstition with the truth
>> (whatever that is).
> This seems to me to be a bit of a straw-man: I think most people on this
> list do not confuse what we do in taxonomy with "truth".  I think the issue
> is more about confusing/conflating objective entities with subjective
> definitions. Do we discover species?  Or, do we define them?  The part I
> find a bit ironic is that subscribers to the former (i.e., that species are
> objective entities in nature that we must discover) are the ones who tend to
> view "species as hypotheses". The latter camp (which you and I both appear
> to be solidly within) are the ones who tend not to frame species as
> hypotheses.
> Aloha,
> Rich
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          Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad
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