Fwd: Re: 18th Century mentality in the 21st Century

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Thu Nov 15 15:18:10 CST 2001

Robin wrote:

>That's a fine and noble thought, Doug, and I agree wholeheartedly in theory.
>But who's going to pay the bills?  The ICZN/ICBN are essentially a bunch of
>volunteers who establish policy and pass judgement in their spare time.  To
>have an organization empowered to do what you suggest will require several
>full-time (i.e., paid) staff (editors, webmasters, clerical staff), an
>internet site (computer and access, both of which cost money), supplies for
>archives, staff and supplies for upgrading those archives each time
>technology moves on, etc., etc., etc.  Who pays for all this?

At the risk of using an annoying contemporary phrase, this is a case
where a solution clearly requires "thinking outside the box" - the
status quo won't cut it. Since you eliminated government and granting
agencies from consideration, the only viable sources of funding in
the modern world are private citizens willing to support science, and
that segment of industry that requires taxonomists. The former
resource is already being tapped into by the All-Species foundation,
and if what Terry Erwin said at ECN a year ago is still true, the
folks at All-Species want to literally hire away systematists from
their present positions and put them to work doing nothing but
taxonomy - meaning that ultimately if industry wants help, it will
have only one place to turn for such help. That would tie up that
second source of money. Take that idea and expand on it, and I see
only one long-term solution emerging: we all join forces and pool
resources. Sort of the old "If we don't hang together, we'll surely
all hang separately" syndrome.
        All sorts of other professionals have unions - if we present
a unified front, develop an organization akin to the Bar Association,
etc., then we can start to be taken seriously. You can't practice law
or medicine without certification, after all, and because of this,
the price of such services is higher than it would be if anyone off
the street was allowed to participate. No, I don't for a second
believe that we could ever demand fees on the level of a lawyer or
doctor, or form a functional monopoly to that degree, but we could
certainly do better than giving away identifications for free! And
that extra money could be fed back into the system. Would you be able
to be more productive if you had free online access to all the world
taxonomic literature, and to all the world's type collections? It's
not impossible, IF we cooperate (if it IS impossible, then the
All-Species agenda will fail, as well - what they ultimately are
aiming for is almost the same as what I'm advocating).
        Consider also: the mere existence of things like the World
Wildlife Fund, Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, and such
indicates that there is substantial public support for conservation.
If we had a SINGLE organization, a SINGLE interface with the public,
it would be a relatively simple matter of (entirely approriate)
self-promotion to tap into THAT resource, as well. At the very least,
people like Robin who study birds would have more secure funding. ;-)
        And for an even more heretical encore, I'll even suggest that
we could follow the lead of that German taxonomy organization
(BioPat?) that auctions off new species patronyms to the highest
bidder. If we are all part of one umbrella organization, then we'd
all benefit directly from getting taxonomists to work up all those
millions of unnamed insects. ;-)

>And if this single nomenclature "company" (I use the term loosely) goes
>belly up in a recession/depression, what happens to the data? [snip]
>One bad economic
>downturn and our archives could evaporate.

Please note that I specified that the agency would DISSEMINATE the
data, not HOARD it privately in a vault. No system of information
retrieval works well in the long term unless it has redundancy.

>I see this as skepticism, not as "antiquated mentality".

I understand that. But what I am MOST skeptical of is the idea that
the status quo offers good long-term prospects for taxonomy and the
people who practice it. I think we need a major change in how we do
business, because our proverbial ship is sinking at the moment. I
prefer a proactive approach, if possible - instead of just bailing
the water out, let's rebuild the ship. You may think this is too
grandiose a vision, but in the end we are a TINY community of
seriously undervalued scientists, whose combined annual salaries and
research expenses could easily be paid for by even a single
philanthropic baseball player or movie star. Even failing that sort
of deep-pocketed sponsorship, if you were able to auction off every
new species name for a few hundred bucks each, wouldn't that alone
cover most of your expenses? Viewed in that light, your question of
"Who pays for all this?" might not be as important as "How can we
organize our efforts so people would feel that giving us money was a
good thing for them to do?". It's a double irony, given the thread
title: in one way, I'm suggesting that one partial solution is to
return to the 18th Century model of wealthy patrons who support
Natural History so they can bask in the vicarious glow when their
patronage results in the discovery of new species. In the other, I'm
suggesting we abandon our disconnected, hermit-like 18th Century
academic image, and communicate to the public that what we do is
important, relevant, and contemporary.

Sure, it may all be a pipe dream, but - as I said - our present path
just plain *scares* me. If it's *not* just a pipe dream, some of
these avenues may be worth pursuing.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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