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Why all the fuss? (Was: bats & battalions (was Benton and Kinman))



> Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2001 01:01:54 -0500
> From: "philidor11" <philidor11@snet.net>
> 
> One possibility is that the [Linnaean and cladistic taxonomic]
> systems will operate parallel for a while, with followers of the
> Linnaean system confident as the Romans were shown to be in another
> story.  When Hannibal's conquering army stood outside Rome and
> called for its surrender, the Romans auctioned off the land on which
> the occupiers stood.  The owners got a good price for it...  And the
> threat did in fact recede.

I may regret leaping into this (and I am sure others will regret it
:-) but I thought the uncluttered perspective of a novice like myself
might cast some useful light.

I appreciate that Philidor's battle imagery here is tongue in cheek,
but I wonder if it's generally realised how very little actual
conflict there appears to be from the outside of this dispute?

Whether you classify (ha!) yourself as a Linnaean or cladistic
taxonomist, you start by putting labels on individual specimens, then
aggregating those specimens into groups arbitrarily named "species"
(and yes, sorry, they _are_ arbitrary), then you aggregate those
groups into bigger groups and so on up the tree.

Now whatever the historical background to the Linnaean system --
whether Linnaeus believed in evolution, or whatever -- is really not
relevant to _anything_, because those who adhere today to a "Linnaean"
system don't do so out of a refusal of the evolutionary world view.
What we might call "strict Linnaeanism" has been dead for a long time,
and there is no point in extreme cladists continuing to beat that dead
horse.  No-one's riding it, and no-one has been for decades if not
centuries.

So to recap: what we have are two rival taxonomic systems both of
which in practice build trees which reflect our best guess at
phylogeny.  What are the _actual_ differences between the systems?

Roughly none.  Well, OK, there are three that leap to mind but none of
them count.  The Flanian Pobble Bead is only exchangable for other
Flanian Pobble Beads, the ...  Oh, wait a minute, wrong discussion :-)

Difference #1. The Linnaean system uses binomians and cladistic system
doesn't.  Except that in practice, the cladistic system still does, so
that's not something that needs to worry us.  (Seriously: has _anyone_
ever used a non-binomial name for, say, _Brachiosaurus brancai_?  Not
that I know of.)

Difference #2. The Linnaean system dignifies some nodes with labels
which we call "ranks".  People who think that ranks have some utility
will continue to use them (and of course they're implicit in some
taxon names' endings) but people who don't like them ignore them today
and will keep doing so.  Again, this is not something we need to fight
about.

Actually, the third difference I had in mind has slipped away from my
hindbrain as I've been writing the last two paragraphs.  So it can't
have been that big a deal!

Again, my disclaimer: I appreciate that there are big philosophical
differences to the Linnaean and cladistic approaches, but from my
outsider's perspective, the practical differences are so tiny as to be
well worth not worrying about.  To the point that the biggest real
difference between the way someone like Ken Kinman actually _does_
classification and the way someone like Chris Brochu does it, is Ken's
inexplicable insistence on shoving an "-iformes" suffix on names like
"Saurisch" which already have perfectly good "-ia" suffixes :-)

Well, there you go -- that's my please for peace and understanding.
Now watch as the replies escalate into a brutal and bloody flame-war
:-)

 _/|_    _______________________________________________________________
/o ) \/  Mike Taylor   <mike@miketaylor.org.uk>   www.miketaylor.org.uk
)_v__/\  "``Kathy'', I said, ``I'm lost'', though I knew she was
         sleeping; ``I'm empty and aching and I don't know why''" --
         Paul Simon, "America"