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Keywords:

  • Biogeography;
  • demographic history;
  • historical inference;
  • nested-clade analysis;
  • phylogeography

As a critical framework for addressing a diversity of evolutionary and ecological questions, any method that provides accurate and detailed phylogeographic inference would be embraced. What is difficult to understand is the continued use of a method that not only fails, but also has never been shown to work—nested clade analysis is applied widely even though the conditions under which the method will provide reliable results have not yet been demonstrated. This contradiction between performance and popularity is even more perplexing given the recent methodological and computational advances for making historical inferences, which include estimating population genetic parameters and testing different biogeographic scenarios. Here I briefly review the history of criticisms and rebuttals that focus specifically on the high rate of incorrect phylogeographic inference of nested-clade analysis, with the goal of understanding what drives its unfettered popularity. In this case, the appeal of what nested-clade analysis claims to do—not what the method actually achieves—appears to explain its paradoxical status as a favorite method that fails. What a method promises, as opposed to how it performs, must be considered separately when evaluating whether the method represents a valuable tool for historical inference.