Biological Theory

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 357–371 | Cite as

Do Molecular Clocks Run at All? A Critique of Molecular Systematics

  • Jeffrey H. SchwartzEmail author
  • Bruno Maresca


Although molecular systematists may use the terminology of cladism, claiming that the reconstruction of phylogenetic relationships is based on shared derived states (synapomorphies), the latter is not the case. Rather, molecular systematics is (largely) based on the assumption, first clearly articulated by Zuckerkandl and Pauling (1962), that degree of overall similarity reflects degree of relatedness. This assumption derives from interpreting molecular similarity (or dissimilarity) between taxa in the context of a Darwinian model of continual and gradual change. Review of the history of molecular systematics and its claims in the context of molecular biology reveals that there is no basis for the “molecular assumption.”


cladism Darwinism dissimilarity similarity systematics 


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Anthropology and History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of Pharmaceutical SciencesUniversity of SalernoFiscianoItaly

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