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History

Joe Felsenstein
University of Washington

A brief history of computational phylogenetics

Joe Felsenstein
Joe Felsenstein

I will discuss the history of the use of computers to infer phylogenies, starting in the late 1950s and giving particular emphasis to the introduction of the major methods in the 1960s. Much of this history I watched happen, from 1965 on. In particular I will explain the way that work in biological systematics, in population genetics, and in molecular evolution of multiple species gave rise to the early methods. I will touch on the controversies that developed in the 1970s and 1980s, a period of intense conflict over what should be the logical foundation of the reconstruction of phylogenies. Computational phylogenetics is becoming continually more statistical and continually less connected to the separable task of erecting a biological classification of organisms. Recent Twitter controversies show that arguments that were dominant and vehement in the 1980s are now taken seriously by few.