[Taxacom] Forgotting at the edge of miracles

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Sun Apr 26 14:36:21 CDT 2015

> On understanding of evolutionary history and distribution – true we only know
> what we know for what we know. But what if there is never consensus?

We don't need to worry about whether there will eventually be a consensus.  As I tried to make clear, the process of formulating hypotheses, gathering evidence, and examining congruence of evidence with predictions from hypotheses is what science should be about, and that part of biogeography is wonderful! (My colleagues and I are developing a manuscript that tosses yet another hypothesis into the pot to account for broad-scale patterns of distributions on coral reefs, so I count myself among the practitioners of this game.)

The point I was commenting on (again, echoing Tony's post) was the tendency that he, and I, and apparently others have seen in biogeographic debates, in which some seem to presume that one explanation rises above the others as "the" primary mechanism of observed patterns of biogeographic distribution (dispersal, vicariance, teleportation, whatever....)  Maybe one will (eventually).  Or, maybe different explanations will fit the data better for different kinds of organisms.  Or maybe all sorts of mechanisms are at play even within a single group of organisms. Expanding what Tony Gill said: "A presumption of XXXXXX as an explanation for everything makes for uninteresting, and ultimately irrelevant, research."

> Do we just say that we are a long way from understanding? 

No -- we keep finding evidence, keep coming up with new hypotheses and alterations to existing hypotheses., and hope that we gradually understand biodiversity better as a result.  We just need to temper the certainty of our convictions to be commensurate with the extent of our knowledge.

> Maybe the ultimate
> truth of the universe is more than we can ever encompass through empirical
> evidence.


> I see your point of view regarding the potential influence on what we know, but
> just because we don’t know anything about the undocumented species does not
> necessarily mean that we are a long way from understanding. 

Agreed -- not necessarily. But in the case, I think it probably does.

> It just means we
> are a long way from completing an understanding of the undocumented
> species (or maybe not if someone finds a way to document them faster. I guess
> my conviction is that I can argue with conviction about the patterns that are
> known.

Yes; and to the extent that you make it clear that you are limiting your support for your convictions to the narrow scope of data that support them, that's great.  I'm not directing this at you personally, but I in the area of biogeography, I often see cases where the scope of convictions exceed the context of the data that support them.

> No, I am just saying that there is no independent way of knowing how far along we are.

Agreed -- we have no way of knowing where we are across the entire scale.  But we can still see cases where the strengths of convictions exceed the evidence that supports them.


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