Friday, March 10, 2006

Generic hostility, Part 8

And more from Randy. My response is at the bottom.


Subject: Take that, space monkey!

In reply to the two points you posted on your blog:

But I also find genera damn useful in my day-to-day work. Taxonomy is just a model, and models are judged on utility. I'm a nominalist (as opposed to an essentialist)

Ok, first off, why is it more useful to say "the genus Apatosaurus" rather than just "Apatosaurus". They convey the same information. And the second option keeps ecologists from using taxonomic ranks as ecological units! I can't stand all those papers comparing the ecologies of 'genera'. Can you tell me how 'genera' are useful in your day-to-day use where you can't just
say "the clade Apatosaurus" instead? You still haven't answered why you think genera are real. To be a distinct level (rank), they must have some emergent property - what is that?

i.e., monophyletic groups of the same phylogenetic depth that we usually associate with genera

What do you mean "same phylogenetic depth"??? Do you mean branch length, or number of twigs within the clade? And if you mean number of twigs (i.e., diversity), how can you ever be sure the numbers are equivalent? There are distinct twigs even within species, the cryptic diversity everyone loves to talk about. And that's why we should get rid of species too. They don't seem to have any consistent emergent properties either. I just cannot wrap my head around how any of these things can be comparable in a meaningful way, other than if you are comparing sister groups. I feel like people who hang on to ranks argue desperately for them because they are comfortable and familiar, not because they have a sound scientific basis. Afterall - they are a pre-evolutionary concept! But look at me, I'm starting to sound like a zealot. I think we may have to agree to disagree.

On the other point, the alleged prematurity of touting this method as a genus-catcher when it's so new and so little-tested: I didn't publish it in Nature, or chisel it into the face of a mountain.

Yeah, but you did clutter my inbox with a mass email that taunted phylogenetic taxonomists. And it probably filled up my email account causing the email that said that NSF would fund the "Randall Irmis Center for Triassic Research" to be bounced back to the sender.



I am starting to think that any point I make will get shredded because it will involve a generalization. We're not even arguing on points anymore; you're shredding my parenthetical asides because they're not PC (phylogenetically correct). Nothing that I can say about genera is going to survive; even if I say that they're not real but wouldn't it be neat if they were, you still nail me. In short, we don't have much to talk about.

I think we may have to agree to disagree.

Hmm. Since your position is "Ranks are illusory and anyone who uses them is nuts", the implication of the 'agree to disagree' gambit is that I believe in ranks. My own position is that ranks are not real, but they weren't just applied willy-nilly, and it might be worth (a) considering whether ranks convey any information that we can salvage, and (b) being intrigued by methods that give answers that appear to correlate with what we call ranks (that's two conditionals, please to heaven don't nail me when I'm just trying to talk about what I'm trying to talk about). But even taking that position means that I have to talk about ranks, and I can't do that, even parenthetically, without getting nailed. We're not even ascending to the level of conversation. We can't talk about what I want to talk about because the words one uses to talk about it have been outlawed.

Plus, I'm sure there's some law of Internet discussions that says that the first person to start complaining about how the other person is arguing automatically loses for being a whiner. So, fine, I lose.

Yeah, but you did clutter my inbox with a mass email that taunted phylogenetic taxonomists.

Boy, this is dense. Let's unpack it.

1. So now even mentioning ranks, even hermetically sealed inside multiple barriers of conditionals, constitutes taunting? I suppose that when I referred to Katie as Katie instead of Katherine that was sexual harrassment. And now I'm harrassing her further, demeaning the cosmic import of her personhood by using her as an example. It's such a violation. Somebody shut me up already.

2. NICE implication that I'm not a phylogenetic taxonomist. Tell me, do you still beat your girlfriend? In any case, I can prove that I am a phylogenetic taxonomist. I just need a new taxon to describe. You wouldn't have any unidentifiable teeth laying around, would you? Oh, snap!

3. Hey, if you don't want your inbox clogged, filter me out. It's invisible and painless. I don't even have to know about it.

Your ball.


Blogger gonesavage said...

Hey, I'm a friend of Katie's, but I'm a student of cog./psych. neuroscience so I really don't have anything about paleo (since I don't know much) to say. But just wanted to say "hi" and now when she mentions lab discussions I know (roughly-- from this blog, & my lack of paleo vocab, & my being in another field, & from what I get from Katie) what's discussed. So my reaction is more like, "Ah, okay, *that's* what they talk about." When I'm in a lab eventually (I've got 5 classes left to undergrad) I'll write about my work discussions too... :)

12:06 PM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

Hi gonesavage, thanks for stopping by. This must seem like some arcane shit to argue over, and I suppose it is. But believe me, this is one of the more sedate discussions of phylogeny and taxonomy out there...the stuff that makes it into the journals is often way worse. :-)

3:19 PM  

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