Fees for determinations

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Mon Dec 2 06:29:35 CST 1996

        It seems to me that there are two aspects to any consideration of
taxonomists charging fees for identifications: (1) for whom the work is
done, and (2) its "reasonableness".

        I don't think any of us would expect to charge fees for
identifications performed for our brother and sister taxonomists.  Diana
Horton knows mosses, I know lobelioids.  She ID's my mosses, I ID her
lobelioids.  Maybe not simultaneously, but eventually.  A nice mutualism, a
barter system.  Whatever goes around, comes around.  Good karma.  It's
worked well for years.  The questions arise when we get into a "them and us"
situation, e.g., when an ecologist or physiologist or (gasp!) molecular
biologists approaches us for identifications.  We have something to offer
such folks that they need (our taxonomic expertise) but perhaps they do not
have some to offer us which we feel we need (gee, thank you for working out
the details of the Calvin cycle in that species for me).  Well, when the
barter system breaks down, that's where money enters the picture.  In
particular, if the "them" is someone who is making money off the work,
getting our share of the money we helped make possible does nopt seem at all
unreasonable.  I have never been in a situation where I felt the need to
charge for my expertise, but if I were, I might prefer to do so on a
piecework basis rather than an hourly rate, figuring I could more than
compensate for the tough cases with the easy ones.  Somewhere around US$10
per good complete specimen ought to be equitable with aliding scale for
progressively fragmentary sheets.  (God alone could identify some of the
scraps I've received).

        As for reasonableness.  Someone mentioned det'ing 10,000 spiders for
a grad student's dissertation work, absolutely gratis.  Unless there is some
info here we don't have (it was your own student, etc.) I would clearly see
that as an unreasonable request.  If I were approached by someone and asked
to determine 10,000 lobelioid specimens, I'd respectively suggest they take
a long hike up a short mountain.  Yes, I have an obligation to serve the
public, but fulfilling that sort of request for one member of the public
would mean I must be derelict in my duty to the rest of the public.  A
little help is one thing, 10,000 spiders is a gross imposition.

        A final comment: gratis determinations can also generate less
tangible (or at any rate, non-monetary) benefits for us taxonomists.  I
routinely accept specimens of lobelioids as gifts-for-determination: send me
a duplicate sheet, I identify it, keep it, and communicate the
identification to you.  A real win-win situation: you get an (allegedly)
expert determination, I get a specimen for the herbarium.  Strictly S.O.P.
in the vascular plant world and maybe elsewhere.  But I've gotten more.
Since 1990, I've identified about 800 such gifts-for-det.  Of those, 19 have
proven to be species new to science.  The first to turn up has been
published, the other 18 are written up and awaiting cmpletion of the
illustrations.  So, I've gotten something of value out of my willingness to
do dets for others.  (And I hope that whoever det'd those 10,000 spiders at
least got a *couple* new species out of the deal).

Thomas G. Lammers                                       lammers at fmppr.fmnh.org
Department of Botany
Center for Evolutionary and Environmental Biology
Field Museum of Natural History
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

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