Paleonet: Did Linnaeus get it wrong?

argo at argo at
Mon May 28 01:25:35 GMT 2018

Thank you for helping keep our discipline at the Head Table.

But if this post makes the cut, I would like to ask our discipline for help.  I have finished book 19 (but who counts besides IRS.)  Like most of the predecessors it will probably make the top ten of the New York Times Worstsellers list.  The book it titled Lamarck's Revenge.  I have attempted to bring Epigenetics into the discussion of the fossil record and rates of speciation; into the major moments in the history of life.

Lamarck, like Linnaeus, was a giant. But whereas Linnaeus is celebrated, Lamarck continues to suffer the public relations fate that Cuvier first subjected him to: Lamarck died alone, penniless, and blind.  After his death and burial, Cuvier had his body dug up and burned.

So too with "Lamarckism".  Lamarck had no Bulldog, and he is the fool, the straw man, and the stupid adversary triumphed by the great Charles Darwin.  He remains pilloried in every middle school discussion of evolution (when there are such discussions).  His giraffes and their necks.

Yet.  There are a few nagging things.  Such as Lateral (Horizontal) Gene Transfer, the fact that stress increases mutation rate in microbes (causing evolutionary change during a lifetime), that recently it has been found that Heritable Epigenetic processes can cause evolutionary change three orders of magnitude faster than the Darwinian paradigm (random mutation, gene flow, etc).  I put giraffes stretching their necks on the cover.  In war, the great stress of soldiers is matched by the stress of those left and home, and worrying.  The survivors of great plagues have undergoing enormous intervals of high cortisol levels.  Behavior has a genetic component.   Violent death by crime in America shows a generational peak since world war 1.  I predict school shootings will increasing and max in 2020, and then reduce.  Because of epigenetics and the MAOA gene frequency. The "Dutch Winter Starvation 
in world war 2 produced next generation eating disorders.  Mother rats who withold affection change the epigenome of at least two subsequent generations.  Chemicals being allowed by Trump's EPA cause multiple generations of nast effects from heritable epigenetics.  Why would we think that the fossil record does not result in part by Lamarckian as well as Darwinian mechanisms?  Yet to date there is virtually no such notice in our literature.

I send this asking you, my colleagues, if any of you want to get into the book blurb business.  I can send you bound proofs.  I would like working paleontologists to consider that perhaps evolutionary time was divided into Darwinian vs Lamarckian intervals.  That the "Recovery" intervals after mass extinctions were dominated by Lamarckian mechanisms. That the Cambrian explosion itself was greatly affecting by epigenetic mechanism, especially in neural systems.   That our current brain- gut axis is a potent agent of heretical, evolutionary change.   And that human history, and heritable human behavior has been sculpted by epigenetic effects caused by the major environmental "crises" that Lamarck posed as the mechanisms of evolution change: first the environmental "catastrophe", then behavioral change, then morphological change (and subsequently acted upon by natural selection.  That the rapidity 
of new morphologies in "domesticated" animals is a product of epigenetic mechanisms:  the fastest known vertebrate morphological change is seen in domesticated chickens.  Look at dogs.  Why so many varieties so quickly?  What greater environmental change can there be than (1) no longer needing to worry about predators, 2) no longer needing to worry about food 3) no longer needing to find a mate.

I have been castigated for postings on paleonet.  Here I will send proofs to you professional paleontologists, asking for a cover blurb.

On Sun, 27 May 2018, Joseph Botting wrote:

> Wrong? Not really... because he was answering a different question. Linnaeus was providing a classification of the array of divine creation, and it had nothing to do with
> evolutionary descent.
> Now, of course, we're using his classification for an evolutionary purpose, and there are places where it really doesn't work. Forget intergrading species; go back to the
> Cambrian, and there will inevitably be members of one species that eventually gave rise to different phyla; the same continuity issues work there. In Linnaeus' world, as
> you go further up the hierarchy, taxa are defined to get more different. In reality, as you go further back down the tree, distant lineages get more similar.
> The question isn't whether Linnaeus was wrong. It's whether there are any better options available. For all its problems, Linnaean classification is simple, economical,
> and can generally be applied in the fossil record, unless that record becomes so rich as to break down the divisions. I once explored methods of getting a workable way to
> deal with taxonomic continua, but it was a nightmare to apply in practice (luckily I never tried to publish this!). Nigel Hughes actually did propose a different, more
> flexible but much more complex system for spores, but this has never taken off (I presume because it's so laborious to apply!). The point of a classification is to provide
> labels within a framework, and what we have does succeed most of the time.
>     If we understand the drawbacks of the system, the glitches aren't too much of a problem, but I've no doubt that it has embedded some preconceptions into our minds when
> it comes to our expectations. For example, especially if you're a biologist or you work on young fossils, ask yourself what the last common ancestor of your favourite
> phylum and its sister group would have looked like. Now ask yourself whether that image is influenced by an assumption of bauplans remaining inviolate. If not, great. If
> yes, then think of it as something hard-wired into our classification that we need to be aware of.
> I'm sure there will be lots of different views here, and am just waiting for the PhyloCode to make an appearance..!
> Joe
> ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
> From: John Laurie <john.r.laurie at>
> To: paleonet at
> Sent: Sunday, 27 May 2018, 14:02
> Subject: Paleonet: Did Linnaeus get it wrong?
> Well, did he?
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