Selling species (from today's Science)

Andrew K. Rindsberg arindsberg at GSA.STATE.AL.US
Wed Feb 9 08:40:36 CST 2000

For the record, Linnaeus named numerous species of plants for botanists,
and stated that this was one of several appropriate ways to name plants.
Today, some taxonomists would be delighted to have taxa named for them, but
wait in vain for someone to honor them in this way. Others have stated
firmly that they prefer descriptive names for all new taxa -- nevertheless,
other people who are unaware of their opinions sometimes name species or
genera after these recalcitrants. (In one case in which I was involved as
reviewer, even after I made the honoree's opinions known to the author.)

But this is part of a larger phenomenon in society -- a shift toward more
selfish naming. For example, universities often used to name their
buildings for accomplished professors or university officials. That has not
happened at my local campus for many years. Instead, political figures and
donors are so honored. The difference is that "Smith Hall" means something
to those who work there and who know the local figure Eugene Allan Smith
very well. If anyone should forget, there is an exhibit inside to recall
memories. But the names of minor political figures mean very little to
those who work in buildings named after them. If it were required that a
person be dead for ten years before anything could be named for him or her
(as required by the U.S. Postal Service), the names of buildings, roads,
bridges, etc. would be named more appropriately.

Linnaeus may have had much the same thing in mind when he named plants
after botanists. The names of early botanists remain familiar and welcome
to botanists centuries later. Taxonomy has a surplus of species to be
named. But before publication, the taxonomist should ask the question, Is
the name appropriate?

Andrew K. Rindsberg
Geological Survey of Alabama

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