atom feed11 messages in edu.ku.nhm.mailman.taxacomlonely Dan Janzen
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Daniel JanzenMar 24, 2004 6:31 am 
Richard PyleMar 24, 2004 10:35 am 
Richard PyleMar 24, 2004 2:43 pm 
Richard PyleMar 24, 2004 2:55 pm 
Panza, RobinMar 24, 2004 3:58 pm 
Nico Mario FranzMar 24, 2004 4:27 pm 
Thomas G. LammersMar 26, 2004 7:53 am 
Richard JensenMar 26, 2004 8:38 am 
Richard PyleMar 26, 2004 10:25 am 
Don....@CSIRO.AUMar 26, 2004 3:51 pm 
Don....@CSIRO.AUMar 26, 2004 3:56 pm 
Subject:lonely Dan Janzen
From:Richard Pyle (deep@BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG)
Date:Mar 24, 2004 10:35:21 am

Thanks, Dan, for that excellent commentary! The following excerpt resonated particularly well with me:

Yes, I as a user care hugely about species-level names as stable unique identifiers (and other-level names as identifiers for their group). But, in the same breath let me say that many - and I dare say some day nearly all - users also make very extensive use of the marvelous inferencial (=predictive) power of the phylogenetic components of your classification systems. You are all aware that the more phylogenetically-based your system(s), the more inferentially powerful it is for us users. Terrific. The opposing force is the nomenclatorial instability introduced by the continually shifting (and growing) knowledge base.

I have always maintained that the value of Linnaean-based nomenclature (quarter-millennium legacy), and the value of objective attempts to infer evolutionary lineages (the inferential/predictive power of which you speak), are both extremely important aspects of our goal of understanding biodiversity; and your words above, in my view, capture perfectly the essence of what is behind the ongoing debate between cladisticians and traditional nomenclaturalists.

But here is where I depart a bit:

Whatever we use, it will always be a sort of fuzzy compromise between these two forces.

I certainly agree that right now, and over the past few decades (maybe even stretching all the way back to Darwin), there has been an increasingly fuzzy compromise to force-fit information about inferred phylogenetic affinities into the Linnaean nomenclatural system. During much of this time, the process of inferring evolutionary relationships was a tedious one, requiring years or decades of very careful study and interpretation. Hence, changes in interpreted relationships came at a tortoise-like pace that did not appear to pose meaningful threat to nomenclatural stability. But now the information is pouring in, and the pace of re-interpretation has quickened to the point where nomenclatural instability has become prevalent enough that the value of the naming system itself is diminished. I see it as understandable, but unfortunate, that the Linnaean system of nomenclature has been co-opted as a tool to communicate precise and strict interpretations of phylogenetic affinities. The PhyloCode folks figured this out (that the Linnaean system was suboptimal for communicating inferred phylogenies) a while back, and tried to do something about it. For reasons of Politics, Personalities, or Practicality, that effort seems to have ruffled too many feathers to have a chance of attaining widespread adoption anytime soon. Maybe the PhyloCode framers will morph it to the point where more practitioners will adopt it; or perhaps someone will eventually come up with a more "palatable" alternative.

All of this notwithstanding, my quibble with Dan's comment above is with the word "always". I do not believe that the fuzzy compromise will perpetuate indefinitely. The writing is already on the wall. Speaking as a morphological taxonomist who has never run a gel in his life, it is extraordinarily obvious to me that the best INFORMATION that can help us reconstruct phylogenies (absent a highly detailed fossil record) is buried within the genome. This is really a no-brainer. Before I am pummeled by my fellow morphologists, however, let me quickly underscore that we are still technologically (and intellectually) a long way from being able to EXTRACT and INTERPRET this genomic information with a high degree of consistency and reliability (not to mention practicality). Recent research showing different phylogenetic interpretations when looking at different regions of the genome exemplify the problem. But the point is, I believe that the day will come -- very likely within my own professional lifetime -- that we will have the technology and intellectual fortitude to convincingly extract and interpret phylogenetic information from the genome. And when that day comes, the era of the "fuzzy compromise" will begin to draw to a close.

In the mean time, we should look for ways to dowse the flames of the "cladistic wars" over the use of nomenclature as a tool for the strict representation of phylogenies inferred from the latest lump of data. For one thing, journals & their reviewers should NOT reject manuscripts that describe new names for taxa (at least at the genus and species levels) simply because the authors chose not to go through the motions of structured phylogenetic interpretations. (Lord knows we don't need any more impediments to cataloging biodiversity...) Users of cladistic methodology should also recognize the tentative nature of their conclusions (in the majority of cases, at least), and wield the nomenclatural sword only with great care and humility. As for those of us on the "stability of nomenclature" side of the fence, we need to stop disregarding "those damned cladists" outright as naive and misguided souls who are missing the broader picture. Their contributions to science are valuable at least as often as our own (probably more so), and they are paving the way to the inevitable (and ultimately preferable) future.

Egad! What have I done here? I'd better shut-up before I sink even deeper into this quicksand...

Aloha, Rich

======================================================= Richard L. Pyle, PhD Ichthyology, Bishop Museum 1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817 Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252 email: deepreef at