Yes, it’s true—we’re coming to the end of our month of trees here at Misconception Monday. This week brings three more misconceptions to tackle, including the one that needles me the most as a paleontologist. I’m saving that one for last.

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This week I am cutting to the chase! No long jargon-laden intros, no musings about jargon—now it’s all about the trees, baby! In fact, it’s all misconceptions about trees, and we’re going to tackle three of them.

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Last week I offered a long introduction to evolutionary trees, and I apologize that it was so long that we didn’t even get to the misconceptions. But as you realized, some common vocabulary is required if we’re going to make sense of evolutionary trees, and I felt that it was worth the time to get it all straight—even if we don’t all 100% agree on 100% of the terms (I’m looking at you, John Harshman!). This week, I again delay a bit to talk about the role of jargon in communication, but good news! I do manage to eek in our first tree misconception.

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Credit: UCMP Understanding Evolution (http://evolution.berkeley.edu) Evolutionary trees are everywhere—in textbooks, museums, trade books, and journals and magazines—and they are key to understanding common descent. And yet, to interpret them properly, you need to understand some specialized vocabulary and to adopt a specific mindset. Basically: It’s tough to talk tree.

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In Part 1, I told you about my work with the 1918 influenza virus, and promised to tell you more about why the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N2 (HPAIH5) influenza strain that is currently rampaging through chicken farms in the Midwest is unlikely to jump to humans.

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