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DEFENDING MODERN BIOLOGY
Ken Kinman wrote in response to Jaime Headden:
<<To take your second criticism first, Reptilia can be defined by both
content and features. Its content is all amniotes excluding two highly
derived clades called birds and mammals. Its features are those of amniotes
which lack the derived features of mammals or birds. These contents and
features are so simple that many well-educated children could comprehend
This is a statement that is a highly practiced staple of debate with people
that don't know better. Certain unmentionables often mention that "such and
such" is so obvious that a small child could tell said fact, in an effort to
undermine their opponent's arguments. The hope being there that the audience
members - be it a live audience or an internet audience - will agree with
their gut and not actually think about said statement.
My question to Mr Kinman is if such scientific truth is so darned obvious
then why do people bother going to school and getting degrees to study
something that's plainly obvious to every three year old on earth? After
all, every three year old knows that the Earth is quite obviously flat, the
Sun obviously revolves around the Earth and that the Earth is obviously the
largest planet. Additionally every small child on Earth knows that lady bugs
are "good" and that stinging bees are "evil." All of these facts were
plainly obvious to me from a very young age.
Additionally, I ask him what's so darned special about mammals and birds? If
any child can point these out as different, they could point out that snakes
are VERY different and that whales do not even belong in this group. The
term Mr Kinman uses, "highly derived clades" is simple exageration. I
believe that snakes and whales are very much highly derived clades and under
Kinman's rules should be subject to exclusion from Reptilia and Mammalia
A million and one problems with this kind of mentality jump into my head, not
the least if which is that the lay public (small children expecially) are not
scientists and appeals to "common sense" are simply pleas from a bankrupt
Seperating mammals and birds as different and "better" is what Linnean
taxonomists had been doing for 200 years. By insisting on using paraphyletic
taxa, the lay-people that Kinman claims to be a champion of get the
impression that somehow Velociraptor is much more similar to Archelon and
Dimetrodon than it is to Corvus because they are all three reptiles and the
latter is not. In my own snake example, one would get the impression that
Varanus is closer to Velociraptor than to Boa, which again, is not true.
For this very reason (as well as arbitrary ranking of groups), cladistics in
general and phylogenetic taxonomy in particular, have gained a lot of ground.
<<And your ivory-tower disdain for public perceptions is regrettable.
That public pays for most scientific research, and they deserve more
Actually, since most paleo is not paid for by government grants (the public)
your comments concerning public moneys accountibility really have no bearing
here. The swipe about Jaime being in an ivory tower is again, a tired debate
ploy. I could just as easily claim that you're using tactics of an
uneducated "populist" claiming to be fighting for the common man, and against
those evil scientists, but I won't. This has no place on the dino list.
<<And they intuitively understand that paraphyletic groups are
indeed natural (holophyletic until one or more of their descendant clades
raced far ahead of the others---in this case birds and mammals). Many
well-educated members of that public, along with a great many biologists,
believe that strict cladists have virtually brainwashed themselves and their
students into an irrational state of paraphylophobia.>>
I refer again to the fact that if people intuitively knew everything already
then they would have no need for schooling at all. Appeals to "common sense"
and "obviousness" are really not helpful. Neither are references to a "great
many" biologists, none of which happen to be named. Are you going to get
specific with this or simply appeal to an all-knowing, un-named authority
<<In the strict cladist's world, classifications must be purely
genealogical, no matter what the cost.>>
How else would you like your classifications to be? Size based? Locomotor
based? Eye color based? EVERYONE'S classification systems are
geneologically based. The thing that PT is trying to move away from is the
subjective splitting and ranking that has been the hallmark of Linnean
systematics. Mr Kinman's system, although it lacks ranks, has just as many
subjective and completely arbitrary divisions as previous attempts.
In science, are we trying to get an objective or a subjective view of the
world? The way we answer that question seperates the scientists from the
<<Practicality, usefulness, and hierarchical stability sacrificed in favor of
pure predictive power.>>
So what? NO system proposed by anyone has heirarchal stability INHERENT.
Although I believe that Tetrapoda is indeed a natural group, it doesn't have
stability built in to it because it is in its basic form a falsifiable theory
just like every single other phylogeny ever propsed no matter what the
format. To claim that rank and grade somehow are better mearly muddies the
<<And no amount of divergence impresses them. And an ancestor is more
closely related to it descendants a thousand generations down the line, than
to its own siblings and parents. One who thinks in this manner has no right
to accuse others of rigid Stone Age thinking.>>
How do you quantify divergence? How does your subjective opinion get turned
into objective observation? How are birds more different from theropods than
snakes are from varanids?
<<The Thecodontia has no doubt been recognized longer than you have been
alive, by some very brilliant biologists. And given the uncertainties of how
groups are interrelated, it continues to make perfect sense to classify
Thecodont ancestors in a paraphyletic order rather than hanging out their in
classificatory limbo because the cladists can't decide where to put them.>>
First of all, appeals to yet more un-named authorities do not help your case.
If you wish to cite specific examples, please feel free. Additionally, I
don't see how using a taxon as a trashcan is somehow superior to objectively
testing competing hypotheses of relatedness using a rigorous method that
employs numorous scientific principles.
<<There at least 28 families of thecodonts in this paraphyletic order, and
ivory-tower cladists maybe let their paraphylophobia keep them from
recognizing it, but that is their problem, and the rest of world is getting
fed up with such pompous attitudes.>>
<<If some cladists are so self-righteous in their attitudes toward the
rest of the scientific community and society at large, then perhaps they
deserve the backlash that has begun to build against them.>>
I doubt Mr Kinman has much room to call anyone self-righteous. As for the
"backlash," I doubt that it is as large as Mr. Kinman implies. There are
some valid criticisms of cladistic methodology and PT. I'll be the first to
say that although the construction of trees is an objective excercise, the
decision on whether a character state is basal or derived is subjective.
That, unfortunately is not something that I can forsee ANY system escaping,
as it would require the hindsight of the creator of the universe, and that
kind of hindsight is beyond our reach at this point in time :-)
I liken this "silent majority" to people in the USA who resist the new
designs for banknotes simply because they're not used to them. "The ten, it
looks like a twenty... they look fake... but dollar coins will put holes in
my pocket" etc...
<<That a continuous tree of life can be
divided without creating some paraphyletic groups is a cladistic illusion
that cannot be maintained indefinitely.>>
Of course you can create paraphyletic groups Mr Kinman, but why do you need
to? Actually, I should ask why would you *want* to? How are trash-can
non-clades at all informative? Where is the objectivity in choosing such and
such animal or such and such character because you think it's more derived?
How did taxonomy move from the realm of science into the realm of a personal
To paraphrase Rod Scheetz, he said "creating a cladogram was an objective way
to analyse our subjective observations." Mr Kinman's system seems more like
a subjective way to analyse subjective observations.
"What a fabulous sunhat!"