Selling Names ==> How much is reasonable?

christian thompson cthompson at SEL.BARC.USDA.GOV
Wed Mar 8 09:17:21 CST 2000

Earlier there was a thread on selling new taxon names prompted by the notice in SCIENCE of Biopat, a German group that is selling names for $3,000.  While some condemned this *new* practice as a *striking departure from scientific tradition* and likely to lead to *spurious taxonomy,* neither is true. As noted by others *naming* things in recognition of contributions is an old human activity. And as a scientist working at the Smithsonian Institution (named after James Smithson) in Washington (named after George Washington), I strongly feeling naming taxa after benefactors who make significant contributions is a legitimate fund-raising technique. So, the critical question is what sort of contribution (or how much) deserves to be recognized by a new taxon name.

Well, my personal opinion is: As a taxon name is permanent, then the contribution recognized should be likewise. Hence, I would be delighted to name a species after someone who would endow a curatorship (say $3 million at most American Universities).  A post-doctoral fellowship runs about half million in principal. Summer fellowships about $50 thousand. 

The problem that I see is that we taxonomists are again selling ourselves too cheaply. For years taxonomy wasn*t taken seriously by other sciences as we have been willing to give our services, such as identifications, etc., away for free, or for specimens, etc.  Now some are selling new species for as little as $500 Canadian!  And even Biopat*s $3,000 US does not really cover our true costs. Consider the costs involved in obtaining the specimens*, their preparation, long-term storage, publication costs, and then add in what the specialist*s time is worth (And remember US Lawyers bill $300/hour). 

I heard that the Texas Audubon Society offered to name a new species of bird to the highest bidder, but set the minimum bid at $250,000.  Invest that and you can support a fair amount of systematic research. But anything less is just selling our science too cheaply.

I would be delighted to hear about actual recent examples of the *selling price* [=contribution recognized] of taxon names. 

*According to Baltimore Sun (20 Feb 00), a bolivian rainforest toad name (Bufo stanlaii) was sold for $2,500.  That doesn*t even cover the cost of field work in Bolivia, unless one lives there! 

F. Christian Thompson
Systematic Entomology Lab., USDA
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D. C. 20560
(202) 382-1800 voice
(202) 786-9422 FAX
cthompso at

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