Insect patronym auction (>$10,000)

Doug Yanega dyanega at UCR.EDU
Fri Jul 15 11:06:50 CDT 2005

Bill Shear asks:

>What do you think of the above cases?  Assuming that the species named are
>legitimate ones that would have been named otherwise, is anything wrong with
>any of these little stories?


>In these stories, clearly there would be a significant temptation to "make"
>species that do not really meet generally accepted criteria, in order to get
>more money.  Would that really be necessary, with the huge numbers of
>undescribed species already available?

Yes. People don't get excited by having mites, nematodes, and
staphylinids named after them - they will pay MORE for birds and
butterflies, and if there are no new birds or butterflies to be
auctioned, then people will fake it - and the average Joe Ego (who
wouldn't know a monarch from a viceroy, but wants something named
after himself or his latest girlfriend) won't know the difference.
Remember, the ICZN does not presently have a peer-review standard, so
anyone can self-publish whatever they want.

>   And wouldn't market forces take
>over, if the species named by the systematist turned out to be synonyms, and
>sank into oblivion or even infamy, instead of conferring fame and
>immortality on their honorees?

Synonyms ARE immortal, under the present rules - and it generally
takes a while for the synonymy to be published, and even longer
before the honoree might find out about it. And, as I said, most of
the potential market won't even understand the *concept* of synonymy.

>Finally, how would one word a regulation in such a way as to exclude "bad"
>patronyms without interfering with a systematist's freedome of expression?

The simplest one: "Only names published in ICZN-approved journals
would be valid". There are other ways and permutations of this,
mostly centering around a coherent and practical policy utilizing a
List of Official Names. Just a matter of preventing frauds -
including those perpetrated by scientists (as Barry's example

>Doug also asks about people doing this fraudulently AND for profit.

Right. We already have unethical taxonomists coining fraudulent names
simply to stay employed, and that's bad enough without having
non-taxonomists getting into the action.

>there be anything wrong with just doing it for profit and NOT fraudulently?

Nope. As Rich Pyle asks:

>If the slippery slope leads to greater funding for taxonomy without
>significant compromise to scientific integrity, then where do I go to get on
>the slide?

We could probably revitalize the profession of taxonomy (after all,
one reason Universities are avoiding hiring new alpha taxonomists is
because they don't bring in much money - unless they are molecular) -
but only if we put VERY rigorous safeguards in place to ensure that
only legitimately new taxa are being described. That phrase "without
significant compromise to scientific integrity" is the CRUCIAL thing,
and the ONLY objection I'm raising; I have NO qualms about auctioning
names, in and of itself. I, personally, would love to be able to
support myself and my institution by naming the >200 undescribed bees
and wasps I know of, at $10K each. That'd be great...just 5 species a
year and I'd exceed my present salary.

We've needed to overhaul our approach for decades now, and this is
just one more strong incentive to actually take action.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521-0314
phone: (951) 827-4315 (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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