$pecies names

Doug Yanega dyanega at MONO.ICB.UFMG.BR
Thu Feb 19 15:19:46 CST 1998

Stuart G. Poss wrote, among other things:

>What will all the irreputable taxonomists who are lured to the field
>with the prospect of now making money at it do?
> Will the codes
>eventually require modification to ultimate provide licensing of
>"taxonomists" and commercial conduct to prevent abuse (avoid
>destablizing scientific nomenclature)?
>In my opinion, unless there are clear cut rules as to what is
>acceptable, we are starting down a road that could significantly alter
>our profession.

This sort of issue has come up before, and ties in with another topic that
has also cropped up. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not selling
patronyms is *desirable* (after all, we have people doing it already, so
arguments over whether or not to do it are nearly pointless), and at the
risk of repeating myself from these earlier threads, one possibility we as
a community might want to consider is creating a formal "union" of
taxonomists. I know that some folks complained this idea is unworkable (the
context in which the idea surfaced before was whether taxonomists should
charge fees for species IDs - another case where disreputable folks could
try to cut themselves in on the action), but I'll raise it again in this
expanded context just to see if people *still* think it's such a terrible
idea. My basic purpose is to suggest one possible way in which we might
proactively "alter our profession" rather than letting things go awry and
then just reacting - there are pros and cons, and it might be worth airing
a few of them.
        There are several potential levels to which such an idea would be
taken, but for present purposes, consider the following essentials: (1)
original members in this union are either voted for by the taxonomic
community and/or taken from among the membership of extant organizations
such as the ASC, and form a committee; this committee or a subunit thereof
is empowered to approve/reject applications for membership (2) only names
and synonymies authored, co-authored, or formally sponsored by union
members are considered valid (3) here's the sticky part, which can go one
of two ways: (a) at least initially, part of any fees (set by the union),
whether paid for patronymy or for species ID, goes back to the union itself
- if there is little or no formal administration or infrastructure, then it
could conceivably result in each and every member actually receiving
*dividends* from the work of their peers (b) alternatively, the union could
be more or less independent and self-sustaining, using monies generated
from IDs and patronyms to support itself and generate the complete salaries
of at least several of the taxonomists forming the union.
        It is admittedly hard to imagine that there might really be enough
money for alternative 3b to work, but one person here already suggested
$50K per patronym, which could employ one taxonomist for one year. Given
that there are estimates of at least 9 million as-yet-unnamed insects alone
(I personally have a dozen here in my office, and know of another 200
easily at hand), it might not be entirely impossible for the total income
to be quite significant *IF* a suitable market is created (a big if, but
there are more millionaires in the world than there are taxonomists, after
all). Add to this the reality that species IDs will always be needed, and
if we present a united "no IDs for free" front (and the going rates are
something like $50 per ID), I'm not so sure the idea of a largely
self-sustaining organization is *completely* farfetched. Tricky, yes, but
        Of course, even if it worked, there is an asymmetry here, for
example in that arthropod taxonomists would be vastly underrepresented
(relative to vertebrate taxonomists), even though they'd likely be handling
the bulk of the workload - so there would have to be some substantial
portion of fees retained by the taxonomist personally, to create incentive
(for example) for more people to *become* insect taxonomists (a good thing,
from my perspective ;-). At any rate, even at intermediate stages of
self-sufficiency the idea might work; for example, sharing dividends with a
taxonomist's employing institution might make the prospects of said
employer having taxonomists on the faculty (and maintaining an active
research collection) more appealing, in the same way grant overhead is
appealing. In the end, it strikes me that it would not be impossible to
organize something along these lines, and iron out whatever
conflicts/controversies might be inherent in what I've suggested. Again,
while it's obviously little more than a thought exercise, it is relevant to
this present thread, and thus there *is* some reason it might be worth
thinking about.
Braced for a backlash,

Doug Yanega    Depto. de Biologia Geral, Instituto de Ciencias Biologicas,
Univ. Fed. de Minas Gerais, Cx.P. 486, 30.161-970 Belo Horizonte, MG   BRAZIL
phone: 031-449-2579, fax: 031-441-5481  (from U.S., prefix 011-55)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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