Such expressions as that famous one of Linnæus, and which we often meet with in a more or less concealed form, that the characters do not make the genus, but that the genus gives the characters, seem to imply that something more is included in our classification, than mere resemblance. I believe that something more is included; and that propinquity of descent,—the only known cause of the similarity of organic beings,—is the bond, hidden as it is by various degrees of modification, which is partially revealed to us by our classifications (Darwin, 1859, p. 413f).

Monday, 14 December 2009

Paraphyly Watch 2009: Pewter Leprechaun Awards Ceremony

Albert Hall, London.

Thousands of people gather outside in the snow, lining up and waiting to get in to what is tipped to be a star-studded awards ceremony. Inside, we see seats slowly being filled, hear the humdrum of excited voices and the clink of champagne glasses. The air is electric with excitement.

[Announcer] Welcome to the most awaited event of the year! Thousands of people are lining up outside to see the winner of the 2009 Pewter Leprechaun. The Hall is sold out and rumors have it that hawkers are selling tickets for over £1000. The air is tense and the crowds excited by the news that this year nominations are a close tie. Walking up to the booth I saw several of the judges looking tired and worn from the week-long debate as to who will be this year’s winner. We also have several famous scientists in the crowd. There I see ... I think ... is it Aristotle? Possibly. Since the introduction of the Simpson-Darlington Time Machine many international and temporal guests are able for the first time to visit on a whim. I guess it could be Plato ... err ... not to sure. Yes, there is the guest of honor Aristotle, carrying the ceremonial Great Chain of Being ladder - the Scala Naturae itself. He will of course be chairing the session from the right of the stage.

This year’s nominees are:
    Martin D. Brazeau on ‘The braincase and jaws of a Devonian ‘acanthodian’ and modern gnathostome origins’ published in Nature (2009, 457:305-308)
    Dennis P. Gordon on ‘Towards a management hierarchy (classification) for the Catalogue of Life’ a Draft Discussion Document published in Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life Annual Checklist (2009, on CD-ROM)
    Donald R. Prothero on the ‘Evolutionary Transitions in the Fossil Record of Terrestrial Hoofed Mammals’ published in Evolution, Education and Outreach (2009, 2:289-302)
    Todd F. Stuessy and Christiane Konig on the ‘Classification should not be constrained solely by branching topology in a cladistic context’ published in Taxon (2009, 58:347-348)
    János Podani on the ‘Taxonomy versus evolution’ by also published in Taxon (2009, 58:1049-1053)

The audience is seated and the lights dim

[Announcer] I see that the lights are dimming and...


[Announcer] ... rapturous applause for the man himself - the father of paraphyly and host for tonight - Ernst Haeckel! He is walking onto stage, completely out-fitted in tweeds and ... is that a duck hanging from his belt....?

Applause ends

[Ernst Haeckel] Danke Schoen! Meine Damen und Herren! Tonight ve vill avard zi Pewter Leprechaun for 2009 to zi most admirable abuse and misuse of paraphyly. It iz my pleasu ...

Applause. Haeckel gets annoyed

[Ernst Haeckel] Aufhalten! Ve applaud at zi end! AT ZI END!

Applause ends abruptly

[Ernst Haeckel] Zat ist better. Ver vos I. Ach ja ... my pleasure to announce the vinner. Bevor I do, may vi present and bless die Pewter Leprechaun?

Haeckel looks around slightly confused. The main doors open and a procession starts at the back of the Hall

[Announcer] And we see the procession of the Pewter Leprechaun held aloft by George Gaylord Simpson. Following behind him is the Holy Order of the Lineage, Ernst Mayr, P.J. Darlington, Peter Ashlock all holding candles ... and ... there is some commotion at the back ... some shouting ... oh dear ... is that Adolf Naef? My word! Naef is attacking Simpson - he must just have read Principles of animal taxonomy during his brief visit here. He is not happy ... some more shouting ... OH! Simpson has punched Naef! The American has swiped the Swiss in a spectacular left-hook! Naef has recovered and is grabbing the Pewter Leprechaun.. has he got it? He HAS GOT IT! Mayr tackles Naef, Naef passes it on to ... Zangerl! My God, see that man run! Dodges Remane and Zimmermann ... who are discussing functional homology and ... knocks over Hennig, who was admiring Remane ... a crash-tackle by Ashlock and Zangerl looses the Leprechaun! They have lost the Leprechaun! .. It’s ... Ashlock ... picks up the leprechaun and passes it onto .... Darlington .... pushes over Hennig who just got up again ... passes it onto Mayr, back to Darlington who ... misses the catch! He has missed the catch! There is a scramble for the Leprechaun and Haeckel, yes Haeckel, joins in and ... punches out Hennig who just got up again ... and runs and leaps onto stage. What a performance from the German!

This has been a most remarkable entry for the Holy Order of the Lineage! The audience is wild with excitement. Aristotle stands up to bless the Leprechaun .. and ... it’s blessed! The Leprechaun has been blessed by the Great chain of being ladder! Haeckel struts back to the podium and puts his hand in his top pocket ... yes ... it’s a golden envelope!

[Ernst Haeckel] Meine Damen und Herren! Zi vinner of zi 2009 Pewter Leprechaun is ...

Haeckel slowly opens the envelope and pulls out a card

[Ernst Haeckel] Mein Gott!

Haeckel appears startled and looks to Aristotle holding out the card. Aristotle strains to see what is written on it. The audience titters

[Ernst Haeckel to Aristotle] Iz dis ein f*cking joke?

Aristotle shrugs. Haeckel composes himself

[Ernst Haeckel] Well ... zi judges ... have decided that the award should go to zi most prolific publisher of zi use and abuse of paraphyly. The vinner iz ... Taxon, zi journal of the International Association for Plant Taxonomy!

Audience applauds insanely

[Announcer] This is a surprise! The Pewter Leprechaun has never been awarded to a journal, in fact, it has never been awarded to anyone. I hope the nominees aren’t too disappointed. But aren’t the audience just loving it! Ernest Haeckel bows and leaves the stage. Aristotle leads the procession of the Holy Order out the Hall as the audience slowly rises in respect. Simpson and Darlington looking a bit bruised but enjoying the moment. Do I see a smile from Mayr? Err ... no, but I am sure he is loving every minute of it!

So ends the Pewter Leprechaun Awards Ceremony for 2009. We hope that 2010 brings forth a startling array of nominations. All entries can be submitted to the Systematics & Biogeography Blog via next year’s 2010 Paraphyly Watch post.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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