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Re: SCIENCE AND CLASSIFICATION



On Tue, 5 Feb 2002, philidor11 wrote:

> Perfect snapshot of the difference that we're talking about!
> Why does Aves have to be different from 'bird'?

"Bird" is a vernacular English term. In essence, it cannot be controlled
-- its meaning is determined by the English speaking people at large (and
maybe Merriam-Webster ;). The meaning may shift and the word may mean
different things to different people. "Turtle" is actually a better
example of this. For Americans it corresponds to _Testudines_; for Brits
it does not.

_Aves_ is a formal taxon, a part of a system that is meant to be used
internationally. It cannot rest on cultural understandings. To be
universal, it must be given a scientific definition.

> There are social advantages to not having any difference, to keeping
> the general public and scientists as close to consistent as possible.

Are you proposing that a scientific committee should govern vernacular
terms as well? For how many languages? And who on Earth will listen?

If "bird" and _Aves_ happen to agree in meaning, it's because the
English-speaking public just happens to use it that way, not because
somebody has mandated the meaning of "bird".

I'm not convinced that everyone would use "bird" as a strict synonym of
"avian", anyway. Most laymen, upon seeing a restoration of _Caudipteryx_
or _Microraptor_ might think they were birds -- they aren't avians, tho'.
(And, oddly enough, I doubt most people would think _Utahraptor_ was a
bird even if shown a feathered restoration -- even if it is closer to
avians than _Caudipteryx_ is.)

Heck, plenty of people think bats are birds! (Although Germans seem to
consider them mice.... :)

> The definition you present:
> "The most recent common ancestor of _Archaeopteryx lithographica_ ans
> _Passer domesticus_, plus all of its descendants,"
> does include the animals we see out the window, in Passer domesticus, but
> you add two components:
> Archaeopteryx lithographica - an ancient, extinct species asserted into the
> statement; and
> the mrca - an unknown animal currently inferred to have certain
> character(istic)s.

And all descendants of that ancestor! Can't forget that.

> Sorry about the missing italics.
> The issue we're looking at is whether these additions communicate enough to
> scientists that they should formulate a terminology separate from that used
> by the public.  Naming conventions are a form of communication, and not in
> themselves scientific analysis.

Are you advocating abandoning any form of formal taxonomy in favor of
vernacular terms?
a) Most formal taxa do not have vernacular equivalents, except as
derivations of their own names.
b) Not everybody speaks English! This is a real "Tower of Babel" solution.

> Remembering that all the analysis anyone wants to do is not prevented by
> using the simpler definition, why create a conflict?

What simpler definition? I didn't see you offer one. "The things you see
out your window"? I see lots of stuf out my window. "Those feathered
things that crap on your car"? I guess penguins aren't birds, then....
(and what if I didn't have a car?)

> If you have to use shorthand for a theory of relationships, why not say
> something like Aves, Upton 2000 or Aves, Downton, 2001?  Then those who want
> to argue clades have their opportunity.  (And I, whose knowledge of the
> details is minor, cease to contribute, and listen.)

Or how about we just use ... _Aves_? What's wrong with that?

> I'm still feeling that 'those feathered things that crap on my car' should
> be in there somewhere, but it's hard to find a technical justification.

Ever had an ostrich crap on your car?

Quite frankly I think I'm just about done with this discussion....

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