Message 2001-06-0045: Re: subscribers

Tue, 01 May 2001 21:21:03 -0500

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Date: Tue, 01 May 2001 21:21:03 -0500
From: "David M. Hillis" <>
Subject: Re: subscribers

>      I'm sorry if David (Hillis) felt insulted, but I certainly never said we
>should be "unconcerned" about intermediate taxa (on the contrary, I spend much
>of my time on them).  What I am saying is that there no need to give them
formal names.
>      I see no great need for formal taxa Theropoda, Coelurosauria,
>Maniraptora, etc., when informal names (theropods, coelurosaurs, maniraptors,
>etc.) suffice.

Why then recognize any formal scientific names? Why not just use 
common English names for all taxa? Because, first of all, everyone 
doesn't speak English. Second of all, there are no rules for common 
names, and no two people will use the same names. Your argument 
doesn't apply to just a few taxa, it applies to all of them. There is 
no logical justification for preferring formal scientific names for 
just a few "special" taxa, especially when those decisions about what 
is "special" are completely arbitrary. This is not an argument 
against the PhyloCode, it is an argument against formal scientific 
names in general.

If we are happy using the informal name lophotrochozoans rather than 
the scientific name Lophotrochozoa (at least in English), why not 
just say "mammals" rather than Mammalia and "tree frogs" rather than 
Hylidae? We could make everyone use English, even in Chinese 
publications! That would do away with the problem of naming species, 
too...we could just give all the species of the world common English 
names (after all, there are millions of them! Too many to learn!) and 
then make everyone use the English names. I don't see that this is 
any different than your argument...clades are no less a part of the 
Tree of Life than are species, and there is no reason to exclude some 
(but not all) of them from formal scientific nomenclature. If you 
don't want to use a given scientific name, fine...use the common 
name. No one makes birders use scientific names for species, either, 
but that doesn't mean that we should not give bird species formal 
scientific names.

>     Why not just call them lophotrochozoans, and let them remain an informal
>taxon, at the very least until we can demonstrate whether or not it is based
>on symplesiomorphies rather than synapomorphies.

There are hundreds of published synapomorphies for Lophotrochozoa, 
and the statistical support for the clade under any system of 
evidence (parsimony or not) is strong. The fact that they are mostly 
molecular characters is irrelevant to me; they are still evidence for 
the group. Certainly, the evidence for Lophotrochozoa is stronger 
than many of the formal taxa that you who is to decide 
which taxa are important enough to recognize with formal names? This 
just leaves it up to authorities to argue, and systematics takes a 
giant step back into the dark ages.

David Hillis

David M. Hillis
Director, School of Biological Sciences
Director's office: 512-232-3690 (FAX: 512-232-3699)
Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor
Section of Integrative Biology
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712
Research Office: 512-471-5792
Lab: 512-471-5661
FAX: 512-471-3878


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