[Taxacom] RE revisiting patronym auctions

Jim Croft jim.croft at gmail.com
Thu Aug 14 17:29:36 CDT 2008

On Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 3:29 AM, Doug Yanega <dyanega at ucr.edu> wrote:
> In just the last three years, patronym auctions have already
> generated close to $1 million, [...]  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.

These are interesting figures Doug - are they your own back of
envelope calculations, or is someone keeping count?  In any case,
regardless of how accurate the number is, it is still many orders of
magnitude short of the total global investment in taxonomy and a long
way short of what is required to make a measurable difference.   At
the moment it looks like scattered local acts of of acknowledged
philanthropy more than a revolutionary new business model sweeping out
the old order.  Nevertheless it creates positive public profile for
discovery and taxonomy of organisms and this has to be a good thing,
doesn't it?.

>>The answer to this will depend entirely on your world view [...]
> 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?

'How would I feel' is an emotional issue, which is pretty close to
philosophical.  Assuming it was not a collaborative project I would
personally be quite relaxed about it because there is no way we would
be able to do this locally.  (However, given the group is Orchidaceae,
others are not likely to be quite so sanguine and the author's life
expectancy would, I expect, be very, very short...)

> 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?

Under the current business model this is ok.  If there was a formal
research partnership, joint authorship, etc. it would be not
unreasonable for participants to expect a slice of the action and if
we did not get it the partnership would almost certainly be short

However, if they had taken a piece of our specimen, extracted the
elixir of eternal youth and wisdom and made a small fortune, they
would be in violation of the materials transfer agreement and an army
of incredibly tedious lawyers would grind them, their institution and
all the issue of their loins into dust.  And if we did not honour the
benefit sharing arrangements under which the specimen was collected,
we would suffer a similar fate.  Lawyers 2, taxonomists nil. :)

> " [...] 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."

One could imagine a scientist being mightily peeved if their band new
genus, Omphaloskepsis (ined - if anyone is thinking of publishing this
name, see note on lawyers above), had been deemed by management to be
called Microsoftia or Billgatesia...

> 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?

It will not become a competition, at least globally, because the
playing field is not level, we are not all in the same pool, and they
are still trying to work out where to put the goal posts (c'mon - it's
the Olympics - mixed metaphor is where the gold is!).  In the southern
hemisphere ego driven philanthropy is not a societal expectation, or a
way of life or a pervading philosophy.   While North America and
Europe have the concentrated historical wealth to support this model,
we don't (and as soon as we do it packs up and goes to North America
and Europe!).

If/when ego taxonomy becomes a sustainable revenue model, maybe we
will let you hire our specimens rather than borrow them...


Jim Croft
jim.croft at gmail.com

"Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality."
- Joseph Conrad, author (1857-1924)

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