[Taxacom] RE revisiting patronym auctions

Stephen Gaimari SGaimari at cdfa.ca.gov
Fri Aug 15 15:38:20 CDT 2008

This topic has been discussed on Taxacom since at least 1998, popping
up again in 2000, a big break before again rearing it’s head 2005, and
the present discussion. A lot of the same things recycled. Well, over
the last 10 years I haven’t seen any impacts of name-selling to the
science of taxonomy. If anything, there has been an elevation of public
profile for taxonomy because interesting new species sometimes hit the
news. I really hope we are close to entering another big break like the
one from 2000-2005. 
There seem to be some imaginative speculations about the world
systematics community getting together to sign some document that
promises profit sharing. I’m sorry, but this is nonsense. Patronyms, for
whatever reason, have been part of naming species since Linnaeus. His
patronyms were surely done for a variety of reasons, from admiration of
a colleague, liking someone as a friend, honoring a collector, or maybe
even to get something from someone (oh my…). Through history, I would
bet that many many expeditions were funded by a donor because of some
perceived benefit they would receive (whether patronyms, public
recognition, whatever). Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. In any
case, let’s get back to reality. There isn’t going to be some
international document promising profit sharing, etc., etc. A
systematist names a species according the rules of nomenclature, and
with patronymics falling into that, there is not a way (or a need) to
regulate who you can name a species after, or what benefit is allowed or
disallowed by doing so. In my opinion, this falls into some silly desire
for micromanagement. Sure, I guess it's okay if people want to sit here
and moan about how tacky or unethical this is. But rules? Everyone
signing a profit sharing document? Come on...
Now, let’s turn for a moment to the person buying a patronym… I
sincerely doubt that there will be any real problem with non-taxonomists
simply taking advantage of this as a money-making scheme, and making
taxonomists look bad. First of all, please tell me what person who is
willing to pay $50K up front for a patronym is going to buy it from
someone with no scientific reputation? Without looking into their
credentials? If they do, then they are suckers. The lack of looking at
credentials would quickly vanish when the first few big-money donors got
In any case, my guess is that most people employed as systematists
can’t profit (i.e., into their pocket) from work done under the
auspices of their job. For my part, even if I wanted to (which I don’t),
I couldn’t take money into my pocket for doing something I am already
paid to do (it would be a conflict of interest). Although I really don’t
want to prolong this thread, I do wonder if anyone on this list employed
as a systematist would be “allowed” to directly profit from naming a
species – i.e., the institution has no problem with you making money
directly from work you already do for your paycheck. People in some
situations (e.g., in universities, museums) might be able to broker
donations to their institutions or department from philanthropists in
exchange for patronyms. A good example is the naming of a new building
on a university campus after the person who’s philanthropy lead to it’s
construction. (of course that is a much larger scale). Here’s my
question – why would that be a bad thing? Getting a new entomology
building for naming a few species after someone sounds pretty good to
Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. 

Dr. Stephen D. Gaimari
Program Supervisor (Entomology) &
Co-Curator, California State Collection of Arthropods

Plant Pest Diagnostics Lab
California Department of Food and Agriculture
3294 Meadowview Road
Sacramento, CA 95832-1448, USA

916-262-1131 (tel.)
916-262-1190 (fax)
sgaimari at cdfa.ca.gov 

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