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Re: a rose is a rose (Philidor's questions)
I'll address the Archaeopteryx question first, which is easier to
answer (assuming I'm interpreting your question correctly) than is the
scientific-popular split. I will use your genealogy analogy, but to make it
fit the species examples in biology, we should assume that your Greataunt
Katherine has one parent only (and of course, we are talking about millions
of generations ago).
The unknown parent (common ancestor) has two children, Greataunt
Katharine (Archaeopteryx) and an unknown sibling (ancestor to the rest of
the birds). We assume Katharine is very very similar to the unknown parent
and sibling. We probably will never have fossils of the direct ancestors
(unknown sibling and common ancestor), but Katharine gives us very good idea
what they were like (even if Katharine is really just a distant cousin
further out on that branch).
In fact, fossil gaps are so large that Katharine may be the only
example we have to work with for hundreds of generations before and after
the unknown sibling and parent. Thousands of generations later, we find
Confuciornis (an aunt or cousin of our ancestor at that time). We see the
bird lineage has evolved some new synapomorphies along the way, and so on.
Having drawn a solid bird-"dinosaur" boundary line just before the
Archaeopteryx branching, this gives us a framework in which to fit other
forms. Did Mononykus and other Alvarezsaurids branch off the line between
the Archaeopteryx and Confuciornis branches as Chiappe originally proposed
(and thus considering them birds)? Or did the Alvarezsaurids split off
before Archaeopteryx, which by our definition would make them non-birds.
That is the kind of controversy that is really scientifically interesting.
****But the MAIN POINT (and I hope this answers your question) is that
we cannot safely assume that any known fossil species gave rise to
descendants. In cladistics we treat all fossils as though they are
collateral relatives like aunts and cousins (and usually rather distant
cousins). Archaeopteryx is no exception. The trick is getting all the
branches in the right order, and inserting newly-discovered branches in the
By longheld convention (both popular and cladistic), the branch with
Archaeopteryx on it is the basalmost branch of birds (Aves). Unfortunately
mammals and many other groups do not have "an Archaeopteryx" upon which a
widely agreed-upon convention can be based. That is one reason I think the
PhyloCode is not a good idea.
As for your phrases "lazy social biases" and "pettifogging elitism",
these are two extremes (on opposite ends of a continuum) representing very
few people and with most people on a sort of bell curve in between. And
although there will always be a sort of split between popular names and
scientific names, I think the problems can be minimized by recognizing fewer
formal scientific names (and use coding to store much of the phylogenetic
information instead)---strict cladistics are going the other way (rapidly
increasing formal names with no end in sight).
And what is really, really scarey is that we may soon have a enormous
split among just the scientific names when a parallel PhyloCode becomes a
reality. Michael Benton's recent paper clearly points out the kind of havoc
this will undoubtedly cause, exacerbated when some of the more elitist
cladists start butting heads. Hostility and confusion will probably
increase in all quarters, which REALLY irks me to no end, because I think it
And the trouble is that the bickering will give all of systematics a
black eye in the minds of the public. Not that I think cladists are going
to be "pettifogging" on purpose (their intentions are good), but I fear we
will end up with a similar result. To be quite frank, I could care less if
cladistic "classification" gets a black eye, but worry that it will also
cast a shadow over cladistic "analysis" (which I think is a very important
----So it goes, Ken Kinman
P.S. Hang onto your hats, it's going to get worse before it gets better
(unless by chance PhyloCode gets scrapped; well I can dream can't I?).
The alternative to 'lazy social biases', as has been observed in other
posts, is pettifogging elitism..... Can there be a split between the
scientific and popular conventions, which is one compromise, or will
hostility result from the mutual recognition of different ways of thinking?
I'm learning about that too.
By the way (again), I would appreciate clarification on why Archaeopteryx
is included in the bird definition. If I say I am descended from my
grandaunt Katherine (who did not have children) and the 4 family names of
my grandparents, my lineage among people, this seems an inconsistency.
Assuming Archie has no living descendants, why include Archaeopteryx and
not any other specific species?
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