No subject

Anita Cholewa anita at MOZART.CBS.UMN.EDU
Wed Jul 17 08:13:47 CDT 1996

In reading through the various opinions on common vs
scientific names, it seems to me that there are two
intertwined but separate threads.

One...students don't want to learn scientific names
because "it's too hard" to pronounce or to remember
"such foreign words".  One solution to this problem
might be to reinstate teaching systematics (which
includes nomenclature) to beginning biology students
(it might also require that biologists themselves
relearn how to pronounce scientific names).  This would
of necessity require that scientific names be explained,
so that the students would be told "grandiflora" means
large flowered--thus helping students to match the "foreign
words" with the organism.  Perhaps scientific names for
species would be too much for 5th and 6th graders and so
perhaps just the genus would be sufficient; in some cases
(in plants anyway) this is already being done
(Lobelia is both a common and generic name, for example).
I always find it interesting when teaching older gardeners
with no formal education that they seem more willing to
accept scientific names than younger college students (who
supposedly have open minds just waiting to be filled with

The second issue is standardization...common (=local,
=vernacular, =cultural, =whatever else you want to call it)
names are fine if everyone could agree, or mostly agree, so
that we could get on with the real issue which is communication.
To teach students the local names in use by their restricted
neighborhood or local culture will not help those students
should they move beyond their homes, unless those same names
are recognized elsewhere.  Further simply putting a name on an
organism will not cause the student to express wonder at and
have respect for the biological world.  If people refuse to
learn scientific names, then it's time to have at least a
national standardization of names.  Ultimately one should have
an international standardization because many many organisms
cross international boundaries and if we want to solve problems
on a global scale we need to be sure to be talking about the
same organism.  But an international standardization would
require that everyone agrees on which language to use so that
no one culture is slighted or made to feel inferior because
its language was not the chosen one.  Which language to use...
hmmmm...maybe we should use Latin.

I think it's time to stop "dumbing down" biology.

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