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Re: Cladistics question
Hail to the Broncos! (from a 15-year, former long-suffering Colorado
Now, back to business. I'll throw my two cents in here, because I fear
sometimes people don't quite get my angle on the situation.
Tom Holtz wrote (1/23/98; 4:44p), relative to cladistic debates:
>Now there is a quantifiable set of attributes by which to
>judge and select particular trees. From the vast universe of possible
>trees, one small subset will explain the data to a better degree than
>The days of "do whatever makes you feel good" systematics are
>vanishing, although some still cling to them.
Many years ago (mid-1970's), I hit a decision point, where I could have
concentrated more either in paleo or physical stratigraphy. I chose the
latter, because of concerns over what I would spend the rest of my career
doing (really doing, I mean procedurally and philosophically). I was
rather discouraged by what I saw going on in paleo, and I even made some
money consulting with oil companies by explaining how they could still
use their paleontological data, in spite of the fact that different
experts and the literature were giving them different answers about what
was in their fossil collections (I was working primarily with Mesozoic
molluscs--pelecypods and ammonoid cephalopods).
Early on, I had become a fan of the late Alan B. Shaw, after reading his
paleontological society address, later published in the Journal of
Paleontology in the late 60's--I believe it was entitled "The
butter-fingered hand maiden." He characterized paleontologists as
artists, each practicing a different style of art, neither of which could
coexist due to the rules paleontologists must follow. Therefore, for no
good (objective) reason, they must each try to squash the other's work.
Many of his comments related to species-level taxonomy, but some points
seem to apply at any level.
I was also turned off by the squabbling between the pheneticists at
Indiana University and the typologists at U. of Cincinnati under the late
Ken Caster. These groups were clearly doing two greatly different things
(styles of art) and had different species concepts as a result. Of
course, each group had nothing but scorn for the other.
I did not want to be an artist (or whatever you prefer to call it), ever
defending the legitimacy of my craft, so I chose my current path. If we
had cladistics back then, my decision could possibly have been different.
As Tom pointed out, cladistics gives us objectively quantifiable data to
argue over, not just impressions or what feels good, and it is backed by
a better theoretical foundation than phenetics was, or any other
As I have said before, if I were doing systematics, I would do it
cladistically. I am nevertheless not convinced of every aspect of the
procedural foundations, and how individual paleontologists are applying
Only time will tell if cladistics is truly "the" answer, but it does seem
to be an improvement on anything we have had before.
And, relative to other comments, past and possibly in the future, the
fact that we use computers is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the
conceptual and philosophical foundations of the technique--it simply
makes the computations easier. And, yes, I know that characters in a
data matrix are chosen, and sometimes even assessed, subjectively. We
are not demanding perfection, but rather just to put something objective
on the table to argue about.
Will Elway be back for 1998?
Norman R. King tel: (812) 464-1794
Department of Geosciences fax: (812) 464-1960
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712 e-mail: email@example.com