The accumulation of multiple phylogenetic hypotheses for the Metazoa invites an evaluation of current progress in the field. I discuss three case studies from the recent literature to assess how cladistic analyses of metazoan morphology have contributed to our understanding of animal evolution. The first case study on cleavage cross patterns examines whether a decade of unanimous character scoring across different cladistic studies can be considered a reliable indicator of accumulated wisdom. The two remaining case studies illustrate how the unique strength of cladistic analyses to arbitrate between competing hypotheses can be crippled when insufficient attention is directed towards the construction of the data matrix. The second case study discusses a recent morphological cladistic analysis aimed at providing insight into the evolution of larval ciliary bands (prototrochs) in the Spiralia, and the third case study evaluates how four subsequent morphological cladistic analyses have contributed to our understanding of the phylogenetic placement of a problematicum, the Myzostomida. I conclude that current phylogenetic analyses of the Metazoa have not fully exploited the power of cladistics to test available alternative hypotheses. If our goal is to generate genuine progress in understanding rather than stochastic variation of opinions through time, we have to shift our attention from using cladistics as an easy tool to generate “novel” hypotheses of metazoan relationships, towards employing cladistics more critically as an effective instrument to test the relative merit of available multiple alternative hypotheses.
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