[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Re: alvarezsaurids/cladistics



[disclaimer: I'm completely fed up with the latest B.S. and voicing my
opinions. None of this should be taken personally by anyone, especially
Dinogeorge. It's not intended as a personal attack, but as a scolding. I
won't say any more after this. I hope the list can move on to discussing
something interesting, like the actual contents of the Gondwanan Dino
Symposium rather than some supposed methodological faults of its authors.
I'll repeat this disclaimer below so that it isn't forgotten.]

Along with a lengthy diatribe (which I'll omit to keep this brief), the
always entertaining Dinogeorge says:

>In putting forth the concept of infallibility of cladograms and cladistic
>analysis, it seems as if the authors themselves make a statement that, in
>their concluding words, lies "outside the lines of modern systematics and
>comparative biology."

        This sort of pseudo-logical rhetoric and barrage of personal
attacks is getting tiresome. Please stop twisting others' words around like
this; its really pretty sad to see. Can the discussion please be taken to a
more suitable forum, like maybe Darwin-L or a systematics list? I really
doubt that many people are paying much serious attention to the frustrated
snarls of the anti-cladistics camp here. I hope that those folks on the
list that aren't well versed in the ontology and epistemology of science
aren't being seduced by a vocal but irrational minority. A professor once
said to my class: "Scientists should celebrate extremists, but not be
seduced by them." I think people confused by the recent discussions should
take these words to heart.

        Even some educated individuals like Dinogeorge simply refuse to
place their cards on the table and show their bluff. I've been on the list
for some 18 months now. I've heard most of Dinogeorge's and others'
arguments _against_ cladistics, and many cladists (including myself) might
agree with some of their more salient points; so what? But I still fail to
grasp what they propose as an _alternative_; most of their time seems to be
spent huffing and puffing. Conventional Linnaean taxonomy, where the few
self-declared masters of a certain taxonomic group declare what the
almighty has delivered to them in a dream on a mountaintop? I hate to say
it, but that paradigm is rasping its last gasp.

        Try submitting a grant proposal to the NSF Systematics division
using Linnaean-style systematics or morphological phenetics and see how
your luck goes. I prefer to let Linnaeus rest in peace. If there's another
(tragically-overlooked) paradigm out there that whups cladistics in terms
of objectivity and practicality, raise your banner high and publish your
revelations in Systematic Biology, why don't you?

        Science proceeds best by challenging established philosophies with
carefully-considered rational alternatives, not by berserker assaults of
flashy vitriol and accusations of bias or conspiracy. The latter approach
is the resort of the defeated adherents of a paradigm, not the trailblazers
of a new or refurbished paradigm.

        I'd sure like to see something better than cladistics, but nothing
else that I've seen yet has the same or more objective qualities as
cladistics does. The extremists can snivel all they want about how they
don't think cladistics is more objective than their mystical alternative.
Some people are evidently pretty firmly entrenched in their opinions,
especially controversial ones. And they get heard, because society loves to
heap attention on a maverick. Want to make a contribution to systematics?
Quit the whining, obfuscation, and grandstanding, and do something about it
(i.e. publish widely, not just on a dinosaur fan list or in the men's
bathroom), or just shut up, please.

        About the whole alvarezsaurid and cladistics issue: Chiappe et al.
are 100% correct about their analysis standing unless a better analysis
proves them wrong. Plausibility-based dissention or exclamations of
"They're too weird to be birds!" notwithstanding, alvarezsaurids have been
shown to be basal avialians. This hypothesis describing the evolutionary
chronicle is falsifiable by another phylogenetic analysis. An evolutionary
narrative explaining the chronicle (i.e. how the tail changed, the fourth
trochanter reappeared, etc.) is untestable and unknowable no matter what
systematic or functional paradigm is used. I don't think anyone with much
background in evolutionary developmental biology would be surprised by
those patterns of character change. Their faith in genetic and epigenetic
contributions to evolutionary change would remain unshaken. Nuff said.

[disclaimer: I'm completely fed up with the latest B.S. and voicing my
opinions. None of this should be taken personally by anyone, especially
Dinogeorge. It's not intended as a personal attack, but as a scolding.
Naughty Dinogeorge, naughty! I won't say any more after this. I hope the
list can move on to discussing something interesting, like the actual
contents of the Gondwanan Dino Symposium rather than some supposed
methodological faults of its authors.]

                        John R. Hutchinson
                 Department of Integrative Biology
                  3060 Valley Life Sciences Bldg.
                University of California - Berkeley
                        Berkeley, CA 94720
                      Phone:  (510) 643-2109
                      Fax:    (510) 642-1822
         http://ucmp1.berkeley.edu/people/jrh/homepage.html