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Defending this and that





Jaime,
I think we take the Linnean System for granted, how it provides a framework for information storage and retrieval for us, both as scientists and humans in general. If a generation of biologists was raised with only a knowledge of PT, I think they would immediately understand the importance of Linnean taxonomy on being introduced to it, and perhaps be a little perturbed at having been denied the advantages it provides. And I'm not talking about Grzimek classifications---I cringe whenever I look at some of those horrible old things.
As for Avialae and Paraves, it would have never occurred to me to give them formal names (much less ranks). For me the coding is quite sufficient, although some intermediate taxa obviously merit informal names. Maniraptors and theropods to me are groups of dinosaur families, and do not include birds (even though birds are descended from them). I only speak of cladistic Maniraptora and Theropoda when on lists like this one. Otherwise, theropods are the non-avian types in my mind. The fact that any line drawn between theropods and birds is arbitrary doesn't bother me in the slightest. All cuts are arbitrary, although some cuts are less arbitrary than others given the unevenly fragmentary fossil record.
There are too many formal names out there already and it's just getting worse because cladists want to formally pack all their information into names. Wherever there is an unnamed clade someone is going to give it a formal name eventually, and the law of diminishing returns set in quite a while ago IMHO.
I think we need to return to a basic Linnean taxonomy that we can wrap our minds around without having to memorize arbitrary definitions of more and more clades (even if we could get people to agree on a single definition for each clade).
For me having Chiroptera (or Chiropteriformes) in a coded list of other mammal orders within a Class Mammalia is less restrictive than having to remember that they are a clade within a clade within a clade of Archonta, which is a clade in Preptotheria, which is within Epitheria, which is within Placentalia, which is within Theria, which is within Tribosphenida, within Zatheria, within Cladotheria, within Trechnotheria, within Holotheria, within Theriiformes, within Mammalia.
And if McKenna has made some major errors, we will have to replace much of this 10 years down the road and learn a bunch of new names and nestings. For example, if two large clades of ungulates are totally unrelated to one another, as various molecular data now indicates, that alone is going to play havoc with his classification. All that I will need to do is move the pseudungulate orders to a new spot, and revise the coding. No cladistic litter of invalid clade names, plus new ones to name and learn.
After a few such major cladistic messes, the hierarchical instability will become more apparent, and drowning in the confusion and the clutter of names and definitions, some of you may suddenly find The Kinman System a lot more attractive (and it doesn't "require" standardized names, so don't let that put you off).
Before I forget, here is the Starobogatov, 1991, citation: "Problems in the Nomenclature of Higher Taxonomic Categories", Bull. Zool. Nomencl., 48:6-18. If you ever see any of his classifications (malacological or otherwise) you might think he is classifying organisms from another planet. If I run across one of them, I'll give you examples sometime.
TGIF, Ken Kinman
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