Folk Understanding of Taxonomy

Continuing the discussion from Comments on Jeanson Accuses Duff Again:

What is the approximate level folk intuition falls apart? Can you link some studies please?

At the species level. There are classic examples of this in the literature starting largely with Mayr.

See Mayr 1963. Animal Species and Evolution; Diamond. 1966. Science 151(3714): 1102-1104; Berlin et al. 1966 Science 154(3746): 273-275; Bulmer and Tyler. 1968. Journal of the Polynesian Society 84:267-308. There is a nice summary in Coyne and Orr’s now classic book on speciation regarding the argument of the congruence between species in scientific and folk taxonomies and the reality of species. This is a well worn argument in the species and speciation literature.

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There’s no easy link to Bulmer and Tyler or the two books I cited.

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Note that most of this stuff (including if I recall Mayr’s) is about species only. The last one seems promising.

Diamond, Bulmer, Hays and Mayr talk about the Fore and Kerala taxonomy matching up well with the scientific taxonomy at the species level but higher level groupings completely fall apart. For instance cassowaries aren’t necessarily considered birds and bats and birds (not including some birds of paradise and cassowaries) are grouped together. The Keram lump some frogs, but not others, in with small mammals as a group. The Ndumba also in New Guinea lump centipedes, eels, reptiles in a group.

What is it that guides the folk groupings?

Different things to different groups of people. Relationships to humans for example is one which also is a criterion for folk taxonomies in the Near Eastern cultures of the Bible. Other criteria are just superficial appearances (flying groups together bats and birds, but not all birds). Just goes to show that the creationist appeal to naive human intuition to delimit kinds just doesn’t work. Jeanson goes on about his admiration for the taxonomic approach of Linnaeus but his was little better than other traditional folk taxonomies and he too made a number of artificial groupings that no serious person would make today.

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Jeanson only appealed to Linnaeus to show that early creationists did not necessarily hold to fixity of species. He wasn’t endorsing everything Linnaeus ever said. Good grief.

Actually he explicitly appeals to Linnaeus’ emphasis on function in classification