Is Brian Blessed a monkey or an ape?

One of the recurring creationist attacks on evolution is, “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” I responded to this once before but it is time to revisit it. Why? Because Marty Robbins has attacked the British media, itself always a noble thing to do, for constantly conflating apes and monkeys. In Read More…

Talk on natural classification

If anyone happens to be near the University of New South Wales on Friday, I’m giving a talk on natural classification. Come and heckle (or Haeckel).

Pattern cladism and the myth of theory dependence of observation

A new paper has been published in the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, entitled “Pattern Cladism, Homology, and Theory-Neutrality” by Christopher Pearson. Either the journal has done something horrible to the text, or the author doesn’t know the difference between Willi Hennig and William Hennig, or between Gareth Nelson and Garrett Nelson. But Read More…

What is systematics and what is taxonomy?

Over the past few years there have been increasing numbers of calls for governments to properly fund systematics and taxonomy (and a number of largely molecular-focused biologists insisting they can do the requisite tasks with magic molecule detectors, so don’t fund old-school, fund new-fangled-tech). But I think that there is considerable confusion about what systematics Read More…

Modus Darwin and the *real* modus darvinii

Elliot Sober has published a claim (Sober 1999, Sober 2008: §4.1, 265ff) that Darwin used, and we should too, a particular syllogism: similarity, ergo common ancestry. This cannot be right, for several reasons: logical, historical and inferential. First the logical, as this is rather vapid, and can be guarded against (although Sober does not so Read More…

Logic, evolution, and classification

Sometimes, as a philosopher, one forgets that not everyone has been forced to undergo a logic class. This is a problem, both because logic is taught as the second most boring subject after calculus, and because, like calculus, it is enormously relevant to everything we do. Most especially it is something that is relevant to Read More…

The false analogy between species and art

Biological topics are used widely in philosophy to illustrate arcane and recondite philosophical topics,and one of the most widely used, and most abused, are species as examples of natural kinds. Kangaroos, swans, tigers, lions, cats, and of course humans are all brought in to assist our intuitions. As Umberto Eco wrote once, The history of Read More…

Phylogeny, induction, and the straight rule of homology

Continuing my “natural classification” series, which I am writing with Dr Malte Ebach of UNSW. After having experienced the circulation of the blood in human creatures, we make no doubt that it takes place in Titius and Maevius. But from its circulation in frogs and fishes, it is only a presumption, though a strong one, Read More…

A quote on science

“All science is either, A. Science of Discovery; B. Science of Review; or C. Practical Science. By “science of review” is meant the business of those who occupy themselves with arranging the results of discovery… The classification of the sciences belongs to this department”. (C.S. Peirce, An Outline Classification of the Sciences, 1903).

My present work

Life can be … interesting, for Chinese values thereof. No, I don’t mean the Nobel Prize, although good choice. I mean that I’m presently undergoing some kind of curse. I think it’s called “work” . Work!? So what I’m doing doesn’t translate to meaningful blog posts. Not always (but eventually, sure). I’m going to be Read More…