Inconsistencies in taxonomic relationships implicit in different sets of nucleic acid sequences potentially result from horizontal transfer of genetic material between genomes. A nonparametric method is proposed to determine whether such inconsistencies are statistically significant. A similarity coefficient is calculated from ranked pairwise identities and evaluated against a distribution of similarity coefficients generated from resampled data. Subsequent analyses of partial data sets, obtained by the elimination of individual taxa, identify particular taxa to which the significance may be attributed, and can sometimes help in distinguishing horizontal genetic transfer from inconsistencies due to convergent evolution or variation in evolutionary rate. The method was successfully applied to data sets that were not found to be significantly different with existing methods that use comparisons of phylogenetic trees. The new statistical framework is also applicable to the inference of horizontal transfer from restriction fragment length polymorphism distributions and protein sequences.