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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 
 them.>>

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 
respectively.  

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 
position.

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 
 respect.>>

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 
group?

 <<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 
unmentionables.

<<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 
waters... 

 <<And no amount of divergence impresses them.  And an ancestor is more 
closely  related to it descendants a thousand generations down the line, than 
it is 
 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 
these 
 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 
the 
 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.>>

Who?

 <<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 
popularity contest?

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.


Pete Buchholz
Tetanurae@aol.com

"What a fabulous sunhat!"