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Re: Life Beyond the Cladogram

Hi Tony,

Phew, that was a long one mate, and cogently argued! I guess my original
post did appear to be more dismissive of alternatives than it ought to have
been and you are right, there is merit in other approaches to palaeobiology
than understanding phylogeny. But lest this sound like a complete bum-wipe
of a retraction, I'ld still hold that understanding the pyhlogeny of an
organism places major constraints on our understanding of its palaeobology.
If we didn't have mammals larger than half a tonne, we would be able to
construct more about their biology knowing that they are related to humans,
mice and bats than by constructing hypotheses about their biology through
comparisons with other extinct large animals. That's not to say that the
latter approach would yield no useful results or that it is not science; on
the contrary, it's perfectly valid, but phylogeny would seem to me to offer
a greater range of insights into the palaeobiology of an organism.

And between you and me (dumb thing to say on a list), I think that following
phylogenies thropugh to arguments of is xosaurus is closer to yosaurus or
zodon in a small clade is probably a waste of time as well. What's important
is to have an understanding of the gross morphology of the phylogenetic tree
and to achieve that understanding through a rigorous, falsifiable technique.
And understanding phylogeny is important if your interested in evolutionary
processes. Yes, it is valid to wonder about what an animal had for lunch and
if it cleaned its teeth. It's also valid to wonder about it's place in the
evolutionary scheme of things and that's what a phylogeny can tell you. 

Anyway mate, have a good Chrissie and my best to you and Sue for the New



Dr Paul M.A.Willis
Science Broadcaster and Palaeontological Consultant
(02) 9456 2930