species names for money

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Fri Feb 13 10:35:33 CST 1998

At 07:53 AM 02-13-98 -0800, Brian Brown wrote:)

>Briefly stated:
>if a group of curators at a museum decided to sell species names to help
>fund their programs, would there be any negative perceptions? I have heard
some people
>say that it might seem disreputable, and I would like to hear anyone's reasons
>for this opinion.

I can only speak for myself.  I think it would depend on the use to which
the proceeds were applied.  If they were donated to a reputable
conservation-oriented charity, it might be viewed as admirable.   If they
were used to fund the scientist's own scholarly research programs, it might
be tolerated.  If they were used to cover a ski vacation in Colorado or a
new Ferrari, it would probably be frowned upon.  It might also depend on
whether the researcher was approached by the honoree, or was actively
soliciting sales of such honors.  ("Step right up, get yer binomials here!")
Certainly, "patrons of science", wealthy individuals who have supported
researchers,  have been honored in the past.  Isn't the binomial of one big
sauropod "Diplodocus carnegiei"?

Part of it depends on how you view species names.  Are they really something
sacred, the highest honor we can bestow on an individual?  Or are they just
convenient handles, for which a nonsense anagram will suffice?   If the
former, then to sell them would be sacrilege, akin to peddling university
degrees for a price.   If the latter, then we should laugh our way to the
bank at the thought that some rube would pay out good money for something
that is essentially valueless to us.

And of course, as long as  you don't mind colleagues thinking ill of you,
what's to stop it?   I don't believe the resulting binomial could be judged
invalid under either Code.

Frankly, the only way to find out what would happen would be to experiment.
It's always easiest to be noble when we're not being tempted; wave a check
under our nose, and maybe the tune will change.  Until someone actually
comes forward with a cash offer for a specific name for a specific new
species, it's all a moot point.

Thomas G. Lammers

Classification, Nomenclature, Phylogeny and Biogeography
of the Campanulaceae, s. lat.

Department of Botany
Field Museum of Natural History
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

e-mail:    tlammers at fmnh.org
voice mail: 312-922-9410 ext. 317
fax:                312-427-2530

"There are no uninteresting things;
 there are only uninterested people."
                                  -- G. K. Chesterton

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