Well-Structured Biology: Numerical Taxonomy's Epistemic Vision for Systematics

In Andrew Hamilton (ed.), The Evolution of Phylogenetic Systematics. University of California Press. pp. 213-244 (2014)
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What does it look like when a group of scientists set out to re-envision an entire field of biology in symbolic and formal terms? I analyze the founding and articulation of Numerical Taxonomy between 1950 and 1970, the period when it set out a radical new approach to classification and founded a tradition of mathematics in systematic biology. I argue that introducing mathematics in a comprehensive way also requires re-organizing the daily work of scientists in the field. Numerical taxonomists sought to establish a mathematical method for classification that was universal to every type of organism, and I argue this intrinsically implicated them in a qualitative re-organization of the work of all systematists. I also discuss how Numerical Taxonomy’s re-organization of practice became entrenched across systematic biology even as opposing schools produced their own competing mathematical methods. In this way, the structure of the work process became more fundamental than the methodological theories that motivated it.
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