[Taxacom] RE revisiting patronym auctions

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Fri Aug 15 17:44:34 CDT 2008

Steve Gaimari wrote:

>But rules? Everyone
>signing a profit sharing document? Come on...

Umm...have you actually read what a taxonomist has to agree to before 
they can auction a species name via Biopat? They DO have rules (lots 
of them), and taxonomists DO agree to follow them, and they DO 
include profit-sharing - inlcuding sharing money with the country of 
origin of the new taxa. Nobody thinks those rules are stupid or 
useless, as far as I can see. I'm just suggesting that a version of 
those rules should be something people pledge to uphold *regardless* 
of whether they are running their auctions via Biopat or not.

>  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

Two points: (1) We all know taxonomists with great-looking 
credentials who are unethical, and who name things that are not valid 
species all the time. Credentials guarantee NOTHING, and you and I 
both know it's not "imaginative speculation". (2) How are those 
donors ever going to know they've been "burned"? Who is going to tell 
them? Even then, it can't be *proven* in the legal sense; since 
synonymy is subjective, all the describer has to do is claim that the 
synonymizer is wrong. It's one person's expert opinion against 
another's. Stalemate. For that matter, what's to keep someone from 
declaring synonyms fraudulently, just to sabotage someone else's 
work? Like, if one orchid/butterfly/dinosaur guy wants to ruin his 
primary competitor's reputation so *he* can run auctions instead? We 
ALREADY have cutthroat taxonomists who intentionally steal species 
from others and rush to get them into print first - that's not 
"imaginative speculation", either.

>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).

First, at least some of the folks auctioning off names are already 
being paid by NSF to do the work. How is that not a conflict of 
interest? Second, you already spotted the loophole:

>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.

And if they are the ones who tap into the donors' fund, then they ARE 
effectively putting the money into their pocket. Again, legal does 
not mean ethical.

More to the point, you still haven't addressed the original question: 
I have *NEVER* said that a person who auctions a name should not be 
able to benefit from it, but I *DID* ask why shouldn't the 
collections that they borrowed material from (in order to establish 
their new taxon) share in the benefit? The taxonomic community has 
always been about the free exchange of specimens, with the 
understanding that they are being used for research, and not 
fund-raising (another analogy: I ask to borrow your car for a week, 
and I use it to run a delivery service, making $5,000 - but I don't 
tell you about it either before or after I borrow it, nor pay for any 
maintenance on the car - is that okay?).

Do you truly believe it'd be fair for someone at institution X to 
borrow specimens from institution Y's collection (where they might 
not even be able to afford to employ taxonomists) and use those 
specimens to "broker donations" to institution X, while the folks at 
Y get *nothing*? Sure, like you said, it'd be absolutely fantastic 
for the people working in institution X - but that's not what bothers 
me about this scenario. The world is full of small, struggling, 
poorly-funded collections - and if people start using material from 
these collections to generate revenue *above and beyond* the 
operating costs of their research (which is what a philanthropic 
donation surely is) without sharing any of it, it simply isn't right 
to tell them all "Tough luck."

There should be something we can do to encourage people to act 
honorably, fairly, and cooperatively, and *discourage* the converse. 
If not, we run the risk of alienating the potential donors, and then 
*everyone* loses.


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

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