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Re: Electric Car Taxonomy (was: A Word on ABSRD)
<It was a foggy, cloudy morning, and a dun-coloured veil hung over the
housetops, looking like the reflection of the mud-coloured streets beneath.
My companion was in the best of spirits, and prattled away about Cremona
fiddles and the difference between a Stradivarius and an Amati. As for
myself, I was silent, for the dull weather and the melancholy business upon
which we were engaged depressed my spirits.
"You don't seem to give much thought to the matter in
hand," I said at last, interrupting Holmes's musical disquisition.
"No data yet," he answered. "It is a capital mistake to
theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment. Leads to
excessive reliance on parsimony.">
--A Study in Scarlet, with emendation
Clades as I understand it are based on analysis of evolutionary
relationship, and at least a substantial portion of that analysis is based
on a logical principle. The logic is good and the principle useful. The
data will be examined as closely and objectively as humanly possible, then
re-examined when human possibilities expand or the absence of error must
Whether the result of this analysis is true is not an issue. Someone may be
making a discovery in a laboratory right now which will refute every clade
identified in the past 20 years. And every scientist who has devised the
analysis will shrug and accept the result and go on undiminished because
that is the nature of the scientific enterprise.
The problem now is nomenclature, the names devised for animals. Whether
there ever was a Platonic or scala natura element to the Linnaean system, it
begins with what we can look at. Animals are distinguished because they
look different from other animals. The easily identified main groups are
widespread and varied. No one can easily confuse a frog with a mouse or a
titmouse. And there is little surprise that any evolutionary analysis finds
that their last common ancestor lived a very long time ago. Popular
observation agrees with biological logic and observation.
Should that agreeable situation be thrown into upheaval? Is this the right
time to insist that ratiocination replace simple observation?
Possible inherent attitudes in the two approaches should not influence the
decision. Though nature's ladder doesn't appear much in discussions of
biology, there does seem to be some insistence on one possible implication
of evolution, the diminution of the value of the human species. In the
interview with HP Jack Horner I read recently, the interviewer combined the
45% of the population said to believe that evolution exists, but has a
purpose, with the 45% who didn't believe in evolution at all as equally
benighted. The blurring of philosophy and science, adding the why question
to the how question in Gould's terms, includes both scala natura and (what?)
There can be an attitudinal dimension to either a cladistic or a Linnaean
At work, identifying information has been placed outside each office by use
of rectangular bronze plaques slid into slots, one for the name, one for
the title. Wonderfully, the men's room and women's room have their own
official bronze identifiers (the absence of a name slot removes temptation),
and each plaque once included the same information in Braille. A blind
person left entirely to his or her own devices would be untroubled about
entering the correct office.
Thinking of a nomenclatural system as like my State government office (small
Russian pun intended), the Linnaean system would be pretty sure to keep the
same people in the same place. Oh, a few people who used to work somewhere
on the third floor, around the corner, in the old section of the building
might have their titles changed retrospectively every once in a while. Some
people have jobs that never do quite fit into the organization chart
The alternative would be a system where supervisors changed often, many
people moved frequently, and everyone had to stop on our way into the office
to see what our job title was so that we could answer the phone correctly.
I can tell you from my own experience that this is not the most comfortable
situation. Stability is a lot more effective, particularly when there is no
expectation that the best possible organization chart can be determined any
We ended up resenting the bosses. Whatever was going on seemed more office
politics, issues of authority and control, than an attempt at improvement.
If this metaphor hasn't gotten away from me, you can see that I'm asserting
the public won't eagerly accept a change in the intuitive system many of
them learned in school. Many of the rest will find biology an even tougher
Resistance is one thing; resentment is worse.
So, I'm suggesting that nomenclature be treated as an issue of public policy
in addition to the scientific questions about utility. A few signs in
museums are one thing, curriculum changes another. I'm not one of those
making the decision, but I have been in government long enough to see
something potentially significant arising.
Gee, I wouldn't be getting much per word if I called this my 2 cents worth.
So, take it for what it's worth.