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Somehow, I got minions/The first biological species concept revisited

It’s late in Real Time so I can only do a brief one now…

I made the mistake of noting on Twitter that I lacked minions after PZ accused me of hating his. Of course I don’t hate them. It’s just that, as an agnostic I am superior to them in every way. Anyhoo, several Agnostic Wilkins Minion Volunteers popped up. Welcome to the possible future autarchy, folks: @shanemuk @tynk_ and @HomunculusLoikm – I am carving up the spoils of conquest now, to save time.

On more serious subjects (what is more serious than conquering the world?), in teaching Blumenbach today I came to see that I was wrong to think he was the source of the interbreeding criterion for specieshood. Instead he says of species that

… animals belong to one and the same species, if they agree so well in form and constitution, that those things in which they do differ may have arisen from degeneration

He thinks that races, or subspecific varieties, are caused by environmental deviation from the original species stock, which he calls “degeneration”.

He contrasts this with the views of Johann Leonhard Frisch (1666–1743; I think – there’s no citation):

The immortal Ray, in the last century, long before Buffon, thought those animals should be referred to the same species, which copulate together, and have a fertile progeny. But, as in the domestic animals which man has subdued, this character seemed ambiguous and uncertain, on account of the enslaved life they lead; in the beginning of this century, the sagacious Frisch restricted it to wild animals alone, and declared that those were of the same species, who copulate in a natural state.

I think the reference is either to Frisch’s Wörterbuch, which he prepared as a philologist, or to his Vorsstellung der Vögel in Deutschland (1733-), but as I have access to neither I can’t say for sure. Anyone got a microfilm copy in their library? He’s overinterpreting Ray, I think. Ray said that a species was when similar forms are reproduced through seed. Buffon thought that what a Linnaean would call a genus or family was a natural species and the Linnaean species were like Blumenbach’s “varieties”, degenerated from the premiere souche (original stock).


  1. John, the Wörterbuch is on Google books. My university library has the Wörterbuch both in original and in the modern reprint and his Insect book but not the Vögel book. If I’m going to do some searching then I need more information where to look.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      That’s the trouble. I don’t know where to start, Check “Art” in the Wörterbuch first (can you read Latin?).

      • That depends on how you define read 😉

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          I.e, better than I do…

      • Then probably not…

  2. Can I be one of your minions?

    Does it mean I have to agree with you?

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      No, all you have to do is follow my fiendish instructions to the letter, But I already gave Canada away to Tynk.

  3. Ian H Spedding FCD Ian H Spedding FCD

    I’m wondering if curmudgeon and minion are actually – dare I say it – compatible? Wouldn’t that make him more of a henchman?

    If you have any openings for lackeys or lickspittles, though, count me in.

    • Can I be a henchdog?

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        Absolutely! Then I get to shout “Let loose the dogs of war!”

      • Brian Brian

        John, I think you’re suffering from PeniZ envy.

      • One doesn’t shout, one cries (havoc) and you don’t let the dogs of war loose you let them slip.

        Sorry you have do these things properly when you have minions you know.

        Minions means obligations!

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          I have minions so I don’t need to worry about accuracy and education.

  4. Susan Silberstein Susan Silberstein

    I would be a minion, but I am not agnostic. Can true non-believers sign up?

  5. Anthony McCarthy Anthony McCarthy

    I usually say PZ’s got fanboys. Sometimes calling them “sci-rangers”, “power rangers of Occam”, “Knights of Sagan”, “acolytes”, “true believers” and many other things as the exigencies of the occasion require.

    PZ, I can take on occasion, his fan boys are obnoxious. There have been several instances when I got the feeling he found them a burden, but that’s the price of show biz.

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