[Taxacom] Forgotting at the edge of miracles

John Grehan calabar.john at gmail.com
Tue Apr 21 16:12:35 CDT 2015

Politicians often don't mince words and their language can be abrupt and
abrasive. This is all too often true in science as well, although it is
often more active below the surface of dialogue. In this respect Heads'
observations in the miracles article are, in my opinion, quite restrained
when he notes the following:

 "De Queiroz (p. 277) wrote that ‘When I asked Steve Trewick why the
panbiogeographers, once prominent in New Zealand, had been ‘exiled’,’ he
replied, ‘They were seen for what they are, a group of fundamentalists who
have refused to engage with other thinkers or other evidence.’.

To me this is pretty serious stuff, when the respectability of professional
colleagues is so openly denigrated this way. If it were true perhaps one
could say that it is justified nevertheless. So is it justified because it
is true? Not so, as Heads continues:

In fact, the panbiogeographers were
exiled, not for failing to engage with the establishment, but for engaging
with it and disagreeing with it. Panbiogeographers have always engaged with
other biogeographers, including Trewick himself (Heads and Craw 2004)."

This rebuttal is, in my opinion, quite restrained since one must wonder if
Trewick somehow had such a severe memory lapse, or was his omission
deliberate? It is pretty obvious that the omissions by Mayr and others were
deliberate, and in the case of Mayr, it resulted in him making assertions
based on an apparent ignorance (of panbiogeography) that he did not have.
Stephen Jay Gould is another classic example of someone who had read
Croizat's major work and yet seemed to take great pains to avoid the
subject while digging up all manner of other minutiae.

But with Trewick's forgetfulness also comes with its ironic accompaniment -
that the failure to engage is not from panbiogeographers at all, as noted
by Heads:

"In contrast, dispersalists have often failed to engage with
panbiogeography. For example, although de Queiroz himself cited many papers
published in 2013, he did not mention my 2012
book (Heads 2012b). Thus, he cited Goswami and Upchurch’s (2010) ‘rebuttal’
of my ideas on fossil age v. clade age (p. 322), but not my response (Heads
2012b, p. 132). Likewise, he cited Ali and Huber’s (2010) suggestion that
ocean currents explain dispersal to Madagascar (p. 248), but did not
mention my critique of their paper (Heads 2012b, p. 117)."

So is this is the world of 'miracles' - seemingly one where myths prevail
to the point of creating an artificial memory that fails to correspond with
reality. Is the forgetfulness and consequence of the myths, or do the myths
drive the forgetting?

John Grehan

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