[Taxacom] RE revisiting patronym auctions

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Thu Aug 14 12:29:47 CDT 2008

Jean Mariaux wrote:

>Well life would become complicated, and unnecessarily so.
>Fortunately this isn't happening and is quite unlikely to happen... so we
>may hope continue working without lawyers and all that crap for some time
>(at least in this field!!!).

In just the last three years, patronym auctions have already 
generated close to $1 million, taking just the 7 most high-profile 
institutions/researchers into account. Admittedly, more than half 
that amount ($650,000) was generated by a single auction, but that 
precisely exemplifies what I mean by "windfall". Two of those 
institutions have only started auctioning this year, and 4 of them 
deal exclusively with invertebrate names. If you push back the time 
window about 20 years, and broaden the definition to include "naming 
species after private donors who financially supported your research" 
the amount of money generated in the last 20 years or so is closer to 
$2 million total. I truly expect that more will follow. That's why 
I'm asking the question - this IS happening.

Jim Croft wrote:

>The answer to this will depend entirely on your world view and whether
>you regard the specimen or the act of description as the foundation of
>our art, and whether you you consider institutions as perpetual owners
>of specimens or as transient custodians or stewards.

That's a philosophical response, and it's easy enough to discuss it 
as a philosophical issue, but money and philosophy are not 
necessarily compatible. If someone borrowed specimens from the 
Australian National Herbarium, and found a specimen of a new orchid 
in the material, how would you feel if they used your specimen as a 
holotype, and auctioned the name for $500,000 - giving nothing back 
to the Herbarium but the specimen itself and a polite "thank you" 
note? Would it be different if they used the data from your specimen 
to go into the field themselves, collect a series of specimens, and 
made one of THOSE the holotype? Now, let's assume (totally 
hypothetical) that your Herbarium is on the verge of having its 
budget slashed (e.g., "This collection is costing a small fortune to 
maintain, and generates no revenue whatsoever"), and losing two 
employees whose salaries totaled $100,000 per year - is it still just 
a matter of philosophy then, or does it become a matter of 
professional/institutional survival? Would you expect the 
administrators who are looking to cut your budget to view it 
philosophically, or look at it as a potential source of significant 

It's not that hypothetical, either. Consider the following quote from 
a recent (June 25th, 2008) news article:

"At Scripps Institution, part of the University of California, San 
Diego, state cutbacks to research funding forced officials to 
eliminate the $300,000 in annual funding for its libraries of 
preserved collections, says Lawrance Bailey, senior director of 
development. The other alternative was to cut staff.
The libraries hold millions of sea creatures, rocks, and fossils. To 
keep the libraries functioning and accepting new specimens, the 
institution turned to fundraising. But thousands of preserved species 
"aren't as sexy as funding an expedition or a project to address 
climate change," Mr. Bailey says.
Enter the name-a-species program, despite the objections of some 
older Scripps scientists who "felt that this was selling out, that to 
name a species in return for a gift was tasteless at a minimum," he 

This IS happening. If more and more of our scientific institutions 
are eventually forced to auction off names in order to keep their 
doors open, then how can it NOT ultimately devolve into a 
competition? After all, it's not like we're all members in an 
"International Taxonomists Union" which pays our salaries out of some 
common fund into which auction money would be going. Is everyone on 
this list confident that their job, their institution, is financially 
safe and secure for the rest of their lives, or do we instead face 
some level of uncertainty between "mild" and "extreme"? I frankly 
think this is something we will all have to take into consideration, 
some of us sooner than others, perhaps.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
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

More information about the Taxacom mailing list