Names for Money

Robert H. Cowie rhcowie at BISHOP.BISHOP.HAWAII.ORG
Wed Feb 17 17:39:15 CST 1999

Well, I've resisted but now I have to put my two cents worth in, stimulated
by "great museums and universities".

1) There are many not so great museums and universities that have
specialists fully competent in the taxonomy of their group.

2) Many of these not so great musuems and universities, and systematics
programs within them, as well, even, as some of the great museums and
universities, have extremely serious financial problems - to the point
where individual scientists are in highly insecure positions, dependent
entirely on their own abilities to bring in funding (including bringing in
100% of their own salaries). If the options were either to be laid off or
to sell names for money, I would find it hard to criticize the scientist
who took the second option.

I see the arguments against selling names; I am not promoting the practice;
but neither am I willing to condemn out of hand those individuals who by
force of circumstance go down this road.

Rob Cowie

At 11:00 AM 2/18/99 +1000, Neil Snow wrote:
>This is an important discussion and I hope it continues.
>I suspect most professionally trained systematists are comfortable with:
>1) the idea that specialists in the great museums and universities of
>the world would not name new species merely to generate income; 2)
>naming a taxon to honour a patron who (usually quietly) has funded
>research because he or she understands tbe scientific and cultural value
>of new knowledge; or 3) naming a species after a specialist who has
>spent considerabe time and effort in that field.  However, as expressed
>earlier by some, I am concerned about the proliferation of new "species"
>and lower ranks, particularly by amateurs (or "hobbyists").
>Taxonomy is still awash with amateurs. By amateurs I mean those who have
>great enthusiasm for the subject, but who haven't spent years in the
>library pouring over the past masters and learning the different schools
>of thought and the theory behind them.  Ask an amateur or hobbyist what
>his or her species concept is, when it was first articulated and by
>whom, and how it differs from several other species concepts. You will
>likely get a blank stare or some vacuous comment that species concepts
>are irrelevant. Yet that same amateur might tomorrow go out publish a
>new species in some poorly reviewed journal of low scientific standards.
>My experience suggests that most amateurs have little or no concept of
>widespread infraspecific variation, or that such variation is an
>expected consequence of evolutionary processes acting on local
>populations. (Most have no understanding of evolution, either.)
>Consequently, amateurs often describe local variants as new species,
>which, if analysed globally, would be seen as regional variants unworthy
>of taxnomic rank.
>It may be unpopular to say so, but I believe the majority of amateurs
>publishing new "species" are grossly incompetent as scientists. I
>routinely scan dozens of systematics journals and am frequently appalled
>to see new "species" described in the absence of any scientific or
>scholarly context.  Whether this is only by amateurs or more highly
>trained specialists is hard to know.
>For example, during 1998 separate articles appeared that described new
>species of _Taraxacum_ (dandelions) and _Rubus_ (blackberries) from
>Europe. These two genera are amongst the most over-described in the
>history of botany.  Over 2900 names exist in _Taraxacum_, which probably
>has only 60 or so good species.  Over 7000 names exist in _Rubus_, which
>likely has only 250 good species.  These articles were notable for their
>lack of scholarly discussion of previous taxonomic treatments of their
>respective genera, their lack of dichotomous keys (even for the newly
>described species), and the fact that photos of the holotypes in each
>article showed specimens that hardly differed at all.  For many
>botanists the description of new species of _Taraxacum_ and _Rubus_ from
>Europe strains scientific credibility.
>In short, many unnecessary new "species" are already being described.
>If the trend accelerates among highly trained professionals to link
>money to the privelage of naming new species, it likely will be picked
>up by amateurs and lesser charlatans.  The integrity and reputation of
>systematics as a science would be severely compromised.
>Does anyone really want that?
>Dr. Neil Snow
>Department of Biological Sciences
>University of Northern Colorado
>Greeley, CO 80639 USA
>email: nsnow at
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 Robert H. Cowie, Ph.D.
 Department of Natural Sciences
 Bishop Museum
 1525 Bernice Street
 Honolulu, Hawaii 96817-2704

 Phone: (808) 848 4118
 Fax:   (808) 847 8252
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