[Taxacom] RE revisiting patronym auctions

tyler tyler.smith at mail.mcgill.ca
Thu Aug 14 14:28:12 CDT 2008

Doug Yanega writes:

 > 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? 

If someone borrowed specimens from your herbarium and used them to
write a popular field guide and made a financial profit from it, would
you also feel entitled to a cut? I think that's the policy at our
national herbarium here in Canada, but I think that's wrong. The
purpose of these repositories is to enable research, not to impose
additional burdens on researchers. 

For the sake of argument, let's say that there should be some kick
back from anyone who profits from herbarium research. How far does it
go? Why stop at the herbarium? If it's wrong for me to profit from
information gathered from a herbarium specimen, is it not wrong for
the herbarium to profit from specimens deposited there without some
remuneration for the collector, or their descendants? There are
depressing parallels in copyright, where the descendants of long-dead
authors try to assert some legal right to the work of people they
never even knew.

I think this is all backwards. We *want* people to make use of museum
collections. Publishing a field guide, or a new species, or a
monograph, these are a real tangible benefit to the collection. It is
easier to support a collection if you can point to the projects it
enabled. And it's not like the $500,000 came out of the herbarium
budget - it wasn't stolen from within the taxonomy community, it was
brought in from outside.

 > 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 
 > revenue?

Are you suggesting that it would be better to have your budget or
staff slashed than to accept outside sponsorship? Are there many
herbarium curators in the position to choose between multiple funding
sources? I think we'd be in a better position with administrators if
we could demonstrate a larger interest in herbarium research, rather
than walling ourselves off in our collections and simply demand more

 > 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 
 > says."

Of course it's tasteless. But in an increasing number of cases, the
choice is not between sponsorship and the status quo, it's between
sponsorship and shutting the doors. 

 > 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. 

Wow, do you really think it might come to that? Funders lining up to
sponsor herbarium research, jockeying to get themselves associated
with researchers working on the least studied, and thus most likely to
yield new names, taxa? Maybe instead of railing against the
possibility, we should be thinking of ways to encourage this to
develop in a more dignified direction.

 > 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.

Not everyone on this list has a job yet, and for those of us looking
for work the pickings are slim. I would certainly prefer secure work
in a sponsored herbarium over continuing on the postdoc treadmill.

My two cents,


Sharing your children's class photos will be illegal under Bill C-61.


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