Message 2005-01-0002: RE: Death of the PhyloCode?

Thu, 13 Jan 2005 09:44:58 -0800

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Date: Thu, 13 Jan 2005 09:44:58 -0800
From: Jason Anderson <>
To: 'PML' <>
Cc: "''" <>
Subject: RE: Death of the PhyloCode?

Hello all,

With the passing of some deadlines and compressed few months of work, I can
briefly respond to this post as I had intended to do since SVP (before I get
to meeting a few more deadlines). 

I think Jonathan has very well described the situation, at least as it
applies to my objections (and those of my colleagues). At SVP in November I
had long discussions with most of my colleagues in lower tetrapod
paleontology and systematics. Most are using elements of phylogenetic
nomenclature already, and some have coined proper definitions that will be
published in the companion volume. However, when this was brought up and
they were asked why they objected to the PhyloCode, to the one they said,
and I quote one, it was because of "the bizarre nomenclature" being
advocated, and not the system per se. The "Tetrapoda" issue was mentioned
specifically by most.

I had a long discussion with Jacques on this subject, and will not go over
all of the details here (you all know where I stand). I understand the
arguments for adopting a crown clade convention, but I disagree that
adopting crown clade definitions in all circumstances is the best solution.
For my colleagues who are sympathetic to the principles behind Phylogenetic
Nomenclature, but object to the application of particular definitions being
promulgated by a subset of PhyloCode adherents, it is a deal breaker. The
system is good; it would be a shame were it to be lost because of crown
clade definitions for a number of taxa. Certainly, pushing this issue will
lead to a bifurcation in nomenclature, and then what happens to the
communication taxonomy is supposed to facilitate?

Thoughts for the New Year,


Jason S. Anderson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anatomy
College of Veterinary Medicine
Western University of Health Sciences
309 E. Second St.
Pomona, CA 91766
909-469-5537  FAX 909-469-5635

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Jonathan R. Wagner" <>
> To: <>
> Cc: [...]
> Sent: Saturday, October 23, 2004 2:23 AM
> Subject: Death of the PhyloCode?
> > Pardon the long post. Please bear with me...
> >
> > By extension of the arguments in Joyce et al., there is no unequivocal,
> > historically accepted *concept* for any taxon. Despite this imprecision,
> > most workers apparently subscribe to one of a small number of "clusters"
> > of
> > fundamentally similar concepts for taxon names. Under the PhyloCode, we
> > ask
> > systematists to accept a single concept for all time. The bulk of the
> > objections to the PhyloCode have centered on the fixation of a
> definition
> > that does not correspond to the concept to which the author of the
> > critique
> > subscribes.
> >
> > We might assume that any well-constructed definition should please at
> > least a fraction of workers. However, the crown-clade convention asks
> > scholars to adopt concepts that have NOT been traditionally accepted. I
> > suspect every expert has his "breaking point": the number of unpalatable
> > taxon concepts he can accept before a proposed taxonomic system becomes
> > too
> > cumbersome or objectionable to use. What will happen as we step farther
> > from the current "box" and adopt concepts (or names) not generally
> > accepted
> > by anyone?
> >
> > I accept the prediction of others that the taxon concept issue may well
> be
> > the death of the PhyloCode. Under the rank-based codes, a worker can
> > simply
> > ignore the taxonomic decisions of those authors who use the "wrong"
> > concepts for taxa. Resistance to Phylogenetic Nomenclature in general
> > suggests to me that people consider this flexibility more desirable than
> > having stable definitions (as noted in print by Bryant and Cantino).
> >
> > I previously accepted the crown-clade convention: we do have to pick one
> > concept to hang the name on, why not pick one that serves a purpose?
> That
> > purpose is the de facto "correction" of nomenclatural messes made by
> > others. However, doesn't it demean our colleagues to assume that we must
> > alter nomenclature, rather than believing they have the capacity to use
> > nomenclature properly?
> >
> > I appreciate the efforts of many members of the ISPN to formulate a Code
> > that is, in many ways, an ideal nomenclatural system. As with most
> things,
> > it is impossible to optimize two attributes, idealism and practicality,
> in
> > the same document. We should decide as a group whether we want to solve
> > all
> > of the problems of nomenclature at once, and risk the Code being
> > abandoned,
> > or solve just one problem (explicit definitions) and concentrate on
> > gaining
> > widespread acceptance.
> >
> > If we decided to optimize for acceptance, the Code's best hope is
> > horizontal transmission and/ or sneaking in under everyone's noses. In
> > order for "sneaking" to occur, the Code must be transparent, such that
> it
> > can be used without drawing any attention to itself. In order to sell
> the
> > Code to others, it should be simple, ask for minimal changes, and offer
> > benefits in exchange for the sacrifices it asks. Kevin Padian's
> proposals
> > at the Paris meeting, as well as the points made by Jason Anderson and
> > others regarding crown clades and panstems should be formally
> > reconsidered.
> > Any rules or suggestions that indicate a particular name, type of name,
> or
> > formula for newly coined taxa violate nomenclatural freedom and should
> be
> > abandoned.
> >
> > If we want to create an ideal system, this should be decided now, so
> that
> > those who want to see an acceptable Code can consider re-allocating
> their
> > time appropriately.
> >
> > Wagner
> >
> >
> >
> > My sincerest apologies to Jason or anyone else if I have inadvertently
> > repeated their arguments without appropriate citation.


Feedback to <> is welcome!