Insect patronym auction (>$10,000)

Robin Leech releech at TELUSPLANET.NET
Fri Jul 15 12:37:00 CDT 2005

If the SYSTEM found it hard to keep, finance and/or justify alpha
and beta taxonomists, how long can it keep on financing and justifying
molecular taxonomists who, for the most part, are not solving problems
at the higher taxa levels, but most often at the genus and species level?
It takes a great deal of money to keep a molecular biologist in equipment,
and upgrades of equipment, in first-class space to keep all this equipment,
and a fair degree of high maintenance of all the equipment.
I guess my main question is this: how much longer will this molecular fad
continue until the common sense of alpha and beta taxonomists returns to
the funding agencies?
Recently, as an associate editor of The Canadian Entomologist, I had the
surprise of finding that taxonomists whom I have known for years could
not deal with a manuscript sent to us.  We sent the MS to two people,
neither of whom i a beetle taxonomist, but both of whom are molecular
taxonomists.  Apparently it is the analytical process that has to stand up.
In my mind, I could not help but compare the molecular biology approach
to that of numerical taxonomy (Sokal and Sneath) of the early 60s.  Will
molecular taxonomy go the same route as numerical taxonomy?
Robin Leech

----- Original Message -----
From: "Doug Yanega" <dyanega at UCR.EDU>
Sent: Friday, July 15, 2005 12:06 PM
Subject: Re: Insect patronym auction (>$10,000)

> 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
>>any of these little stories?
> Nope.
>>In these stories, clearly there would be a significant temptation to
>>species that do not really meet generally accepted criteria, in order to
>>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,
>>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
> indicates).
>>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
> 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
>>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.
> Sincerely,
> --
> 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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