Associations, such as the Willi Hennig society, and journals, such as Cladistics, were erected in order to tackle the growing problem of pheneticists, purveyors of overall similarity, clustering and divergence rates. Rather than challenge molecular systematists and their numerical taxonomic methods, we take part. Where is our integrity?Gosh, maybe people realised that molecular data are useful, that molecular data benefit from statistical analysis, and that divergence rates (and times) were of great biological interest? Fancy that!
What happened to the Cladistic Revolution? Today, students appear to have no knowledge of that Revolution. They graduate as students did so before the Revolution, with a sound knowledge of phenetics, ancestor worship and a healthy dose of molecular genetics. What happened to taxonomy and cladistics?I suspect the real drivers in the "Revolution" were: the development methods that could be implemented in computer software (I include parsimony in this); computer hardware that was becoming cheaper and more powerful; and, the growth of molecular data (i.e., data that was easily digitised). I don't mean to imply that everything was technologically driven, but I suspect it was a combination of a desire to infer evolutionary trees coupled with plausible means of doing so that drove the "revolution", rather than any great conceptual framework.
Such matters as the Phylocode, DNA taxonomy and barcoding, for example, have risen to prominence despite criticism of their many ﬂaws and illogical conclusions. The attempts of these applied technologies to derail almost 250 years of scholarship are barely even questioned by our own peers with only a few taking a stand (e.g., Will and Rubinoﬀ, 2004; Wheeler, 2005).Barcoding is happening, get over it. There are technical issues with its ability to identify "species", but to object to it on ideological grounds (as papers published in Cladistics tend to do) is ultimately futile. If the authors dealt with bacteria they wouldn't bat an eyelid. Besides, I suspect that the ability to identify organisms, or discover clusters of similar sequences will be among the least interesting applications of barcoding. There will be a wealth of standardised, geotagged data from across life around the planet. People not blinkered by ideology will do interesting things with these data.
Barcoding is understood as a ‘‘solution’’ (to what, one might ask?), systematics journals are infested with phenetics and population genetics (cladistics has vanished), both, seemingly, directing the course and future of taxonomy. Where are the scholars?Personally I use the term "phenetics" as a litmus test. If anybody says that a method is "phenetic" then I pretty much switch off. Almost always, if somebody uses this term they simply don't understand what they are talking about. If you describe a method as "phenetic" then that tells me that you either don't understand the method, or you're too lazy to try and understand it.
In some ways all this saddens me. I was an undergraduate student around the time of the heyday of the New York school, thought Systematics and Biogeography: Cladistics and Vicariance was a great (if flawed) book (and I still do), and did my first post doc with Gary Nelson at the AMNH. It was a great time to be a student. Phylogenetic trees were appearing in all sorts of places, and systematists were tackling big topics such as biogeography, diversification, coevolution, and development. There was a sense of ambition, and excitement. Yet now it seems that Cladistics has become a venue for reactionary rants by people unable to break out of the comforting (but ultimately crippling) coherence of the hard-core cladist's world view.