Selling Names ==> How much is reasonable?

Sven O Kullander sven.kullander at NRM.SE
Wed Mar 8 15:57:49 CST 2000

The crucial matter is not how much you can gain, but how much the suppliers
are going to charge you once they realize you are not doing science
anymore, but business.

Suppose you charge USD 50 000 for a beetle. I guess the editor of the
journal in which the name gets published then will rip 10 000, the two
referees 5000 each, institutions from which you normally borrow comparative
material charge you a total of 15 000, and the country from which the
animal came starts charging 10 000 for each specimen, then the collector
who thought he supported not-for-profit science, then the volunteers who
sorted the material, then the people who suddenly see a way of financing
your salary, then .... After you paid the bills, the person who bought the
name from you sues you for 100 000 because you made a junior synonym, and
he only wanted a name in that genus. And since only new species will count
in systematics, no revisions will ever be made, especially since
synonymization of a commercial species might become a court case.
Evidently, scientists are not going to get anywhere with this, but it will
be BioPat and amateurs to exploit the market and we certainly have to find
new ways of naming animals before prices drive scientists out of science.
Or put an end to the business, probably most efficiently by an ICZN ruling.

The fact that names get based on spenders or others offering time, space,
interest or volunteering hands, in recognition of unconditional support is
quite a different thing from offering names for sale. Noone would
disapprove of the first; and that is why we have patronyms, and there was
never much objections to honoring deserving souls. The second phenomenon is
clearly unethical no matter what the price. Any price is too cheap.

Sven O Kullander
Department of Vertebrate Zoology
Swedish Museum of Natural History
POB 50007
SE-104 05 Stockholm, Sweden

At 09:17 08 03 00 -0500,F. Christian Thompson  wrote:
>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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