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RE: A few very short questions

> From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
> Raymond Ancog
> Has anyone ever wondered how paleontologists are going to explain
> cladistics to a whole generation of schoolkids who were weaned on the
> Linnean system?


I would have less problem with this if the word "paleontologist" were
replaced with "biologist".  Cladistics is not some weird fringe concept
limited to paleontology: it is part and parcel of modern systematic biology,
regardless of the material being dry bones, wet slimy molluscs, or plant

> Or how do we explain it to first-time listeners who aren't
> familiar with Linneaus in the first place. I can imagine delivering a
> lecture to high school students about cladistics and some of them going
> "Duh?!" in their minds.

I know the feeling.  Of course, some of them go "Duh?!" when you do Linnean
systematics, too!

> The Linnean hierarchy is so firmly entrenched in
> the academic psyche ( and in everyday use) that it takes almost a paradigm
> shift (IMHO) to adjust to cladistics.

Well, yes, it is almost a paradigm shift.  (You can arguably drop the

How are we going to explain it?  By explaining it.  By education.

In other words, precisely what is going on right now in classrooms.

Cladograms and cladisitics are now standard fare (in some form) of
college-level biology textbooks.  They are working their way into high
school textbooks (although, since cladistics involves descent with
modification, some school systems may not be using such textbooks... Okay,
okay, Mickey: I won't get to the "C"-word!!!).  In a few years it will
hopefully make its way to middle school books.

The same thing happened when plate tectonics was first discovered.  It first
showed up in graduate level courses of current topics in geology research,
made its way to the intro geology undergrad courses, then down to the
secondary education system.  Same thing with genetics (okay, change
"geology" to "biology").  Heck, same thing with computer programming!  (In
WWII, it has a highly classified realm of study; now it's taught in
secondary school!!)

This is why using a kids book to reinforce concepts such as "dinosaurs are a
class distinct from the reptile class" is non-helpful: instead, getting the
idea out to young kids early that life forms a set of branches within
branches will be helpful for the future.

Back to educating...

                Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                Vertebrate Paleontologist
Department of Geology           Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland          College Park Scholars
                College Park, MD  20742
Phone:  301-405-4084    Email:  tholtz@geol.umd.edu
Fax (Geol):  301-314-9661       Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-314-7843