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

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 rest.


>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:  nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu