Citation: Sandvik, H. (2003) Anthropocentricisms in cladograms. – Talk given at the XIth Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology in Wien.

Abstract: The understanding of evolution is often impaired by anthropocentric thinking. Most laypeople’s picture of evolution is both essentialist and teleological, and "evolution" is more or less understood as a metaphor for "anthropogenesis". Among professional evolutionary biologists, it is acknowledged that essentialist and/or teleological thinking is an inadequate tool for representing evolution. Nevertheless, unconsciously or implicitly such anthropocentric thinking often enters into evolutionary narratives even among professionals. O’Hara (1992) has reviewed some of the narrative devices that introduce anthropocentricisms into evolutionary trees. Most of these are avoided when using cladograms instead of diagrams, phylograms, cartoons, or the like. Therefore, the advance of cladism has greatly reduced the degree to which anthropocentric thinking can distort presentations of evolutionary history. There are two devices left, however, which are even more subtle than the ones avoided by cladograms. These are differential resolution and sort order. Both potentially reinforce, and are reinforced by, the "anthropogenesis" metaphor of evolution. The two narrative devices are explained, and their potential to distort the understanding of evolution is exemplified. In addition, an investigation of the frequency of both anthropocentricisms in recent text books in systematic zoology is presented. The relevance of these insights for teaching phylogenetics is discussed.

Related publications: A revised and extended version of this talk has appeared in Biology and Philosophy.


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