$pecie$ and money

Adolf Ceska aceska at VICTORIA.TC.CA
Mon Mar 9 08:36:23 CST 1998

Some time ago I noticed a trend in astronomy to sell the names of
asteroids. I asked my friend astronomer to clarify this question.
Here is his answer:


Dear Adolf,

        You have raised an interesting question, which has taxed
asteroid researchers in much the same way as I dare say it taxes
botanical taxonomists.

        In the beginning, asteroids were named after gods, but we ran
out of gods a very long time ago.  Nowadays asteroids are named after
almost anybody, though by own preference is that that they should be
named after someone who has at least in some way contributed to the
advancement of the science - astronomy in my case, botany in yours.

        With asteroids, there are a few important  basic and minimal
rules that must be adhered to before the international body that looks
after these things will approve a name, and I imagine the same thing
applies to botanical names.  After the basic rules have been
satisfied, it becomes rather a matter of personal opinion (which will
differ from person to person) as to what is "appropriate" or "in good
taste", or whatever.

        On the question of naming an asteroid (or a plant) after a
donor, I think there is an ethical distinction between naming it after
an actual donor and a potential donor.

        If someone has given you a generous donation that has enabled
you to carry out your research, then that donor has contributed in a
definite and tangible way to the advancement of your science, and I think
it is entirely appropriate for you to express your appreciation by
honouring the donor with a name.  I think the name is then more
appropriate, for example, than names that have been used to honour
people who have had no connection with astronomy in my case or with
botany in yours.  When the Commonwealth Games Society gave us a
substantial grant, we expressed our thanks by suggesting the name
Kleewyck for an asteroid, after their mascot Klee Wyck, and this
suggestion was eventually officially accepted.  This happened long after
the Games were over, and we never discussed it with them, nor was the
grant conditional upon the name or vice versa.

        To name an asteroid or a plant after a POTENTIAL donor seems
to me, in my personal ethics, to savour a bit more of bribery or of
selling names.  My personal view (and others may well not agree)
is that that would not be appropriate.

        Having ridden my high horse, however, I am bound to say that,
after not having had an NSERC grant for several years, I would probably
stoop to any level to get some funding, ethical or not.  Which just goes to
show that I suffer from the same human frailties as anyone else.



I would add that after the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Czech
astronomers named one asteroid "Dominik" after the Czech hockey goaltender
Dominik Hasek. He is a god, isn't he?

Adolf Ceska
Adolf Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C., Canada V8W 3S2
e-mail: aceska at victoria.tc.ca
Phone: 250-356-7855 (work), 250-477-1211 (home)
Fax: 250-387-2733 (work)

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