International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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FRIDAY, JULY 10  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-M280
Individual papers
Systematics and Classification

Diachronicity and the contingency of species membership

Alex Levine (University of South Florida, United States)

This paper turns to the consequences of time-irreversibility for one aspect of the familiar debate on the ontology of species. The causal theory of reference (Kripke 1974, Putnam 1975) offered much promise in resolving philosophical puzzles solved by the theory and practice of taxonomy. Species names could be treated as rigid designators (Hull 1982, Stanford and Kitcher 2000). But this promise comes at a cost (Levine 2001), prompting a reexamination of the semantics of taxon names, the practices whereby the scientific community accepts and changes those names, and the modal significance of both (LaPorte 2003, Haber 2012, Witteveen 2014). I argue that the ensuing debate can best be moved forward by attention to the dynamics of speciation, a process driven partially by the phenotype-blind sampling of individuals from a parent population (as in founder effect speciation). When speciation events are in principle datable, the membership of a given organism in its species must be a contingent, historical fact. At risk of violence to the evolutionary foundations of contemporary systematic biology, it must never be taken as a conceptual, or even a causal necessity. I conclude by returning to the method of types in taxonomy, a frequent target of recent philosophical scrutiny. The lesson to be drawn by the success of this method in avoiding taxonomic confusion is that being made into a type specimen situates an organism within a web of scientific conventions, allowing the name attached to it to serve as a quasi-rigid designator for those observing these conventions. But such quasi-rigidity is itself contingent on a given, historically situated scientific practice. As such, it is nothing like the rigidity attributed to proper names or natural kind terms by Kripke or Putnam.

Roxie Laybourne and the development of forensic ornithology

Gabrielle Graham (Florida State University, United States)

In the 1960s, working from the Division of Birds in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Roxie Laybourne pioneered the field of forensic ornithology. In October of 1960, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) turned to the Smithsonian to identify the birds which struck down Eastern Air Lines Flight 375. The work was passed to Laybourne, whose visual acuity and determination not only resolved the cause of Flight 375, but set forth the methods and markers for microscopic identification of feathers by species. Originally working with slides using light microscopy, Laybourne single-handedly developed a comprehensive library of slides to be used in what she referred to as “feather work.” Laybourne provided research and investigation services for the FAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pratt and Whitney, Rolls Royce Limited, and the U.S. Air Force. The feather identification work conducted by Laybourne over the next forty years of her life touched areas of technology and society ranging from aeronautics safety and design, to endangered species poaching and trafficking, to criminal justice. Although Roxie Laybourne's work has contributed to increased aircraft safety worldwide, few know the origin story of the field of forensic ornithology and the woman responsible for its founding. This paper seeks to highlight the extraordinary work conducted by Laybourne during a time when women were only just beginning to gain acceptance in scientific fields.

Species concepts and the promiscuous grape

George Gale (Concordia University, Canada)

H. A. Prichard argued that we all know, intuitively, what is right or wrong, and that it is only when we begin to philosophically examine the processes of our moral judgments that we lose our way. Thus, he argued, moral analysis rested upon a mistake. I think philosophical analysis of species rests upon a similar mistake. In what follows, I focus upon our attempts to systematize grapes Vitis genus, subgenus vitis as ample demonstration of this mistake. I begin with the point that up until now species concepts analysis has focussed mainly upon animal speies. These attempts have so far failed to reach any settled conclusion . Unfortunately, it gets worse when botanical species are considered. One example should make this clear. Grape taxonomists ampelographers agree that there are somewhere between eighteen and thirty-two good species of Vitis vitis in North America. In the field, grape species are nearly as recognizable as the bird species in your backyard feeder. (Or as clear as they were to Mayr s New Guinea hunters ) Yet, when close morphological and DNA methods are invoked, grape species seem to disappear. Indeed, DNA differences intraspecies are typically greater than differences interspecies. And one grape fact that tells crucially against most received species concepts, especially against the Biological Species Concept, is that all Vitis vitis species worldwide can successfully mate. Obviously, species concepts crafted for fauna simply cannot deal with such promiscuity. After a thorough review of grape systematics, and its attendant conceptual issues, I examine some of the rare approaches to botanical issues in the species concept problem, specifically those provided by Holsinger and Mischler. My conclusion is that, once botany is factored into the species concept question, the only possible options are an extreme pluralism or a Prichardian fallback into intuitionism. Given the success of field identification, I prefer the latter.