[Taxacom] another ebay auction of naming rights

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Mon Oct 19 16:03:05 CDT 2015

On 10/19/15 10:42 AM, John Grehan wrote:
> I wonder if the
> "biologist" Dave Goulson is a taxonomist, and if so, presumably he has all
> the funding he needs so he does not have to contemplate such possibilities.
> John Grehan
FYI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Goulson

I'm not disputing the sorry state of taxonomy funding, but I also don't 
find the present debate to be as black-and-white as some see it. If a 
new species is *actually new*, I have no other objective concern beyond 
that, either as a taxonomist or as an ICZN Commissioner. HOWEVER, that 
being said, if the creation of a new taxon name involves - at some level 
- actions which can be construed as genuinely unethical, then every 
scientist, regardless of discipline, should be concerned. There is 
nothing *inherently* unethical in auctioning off a name, so I see no 
inherent problem. But if the species involved is, say, one which someone 
else was already in the process of naming, or if the winning bidder 
attempts to impose a name which is deliberately offensive (to a named 
person, nation, or ethnic group), then that sort of subjective concern 
would change the equation. Neither a blanket prohibition nor a carte 
blanche approach is suitable; auctions, like many things, need to be 
viewed primarily *case-by-case*, with all the details known up front.

The *only* generalized concern (other than validity of taxa, and ethics) 
I think we might need to address as a community is one I've alluded to 
other times this topic has come up: namely, given that the specimens 
that form the basis of modern taxonomy are, primarily, borrowed 
property, would we (or could we, or should we) collectively draw a line 
as to who benefits from the proceeds of a name sale, and how much?? 
Right now, if a taxonomist has an NSF grant and does a revision using 
borrowed specimens, they don't give any of that NSF money to the 
institutions whose specimens they borrowed - but bear in mind that those 
NSF funds do not cover much more than personal support for the 
taxonomist and maybe a student or two, plus overhead; no one gets 
personally rich writing NSF grants. If the situation were changed so 
that same taxonomist derived all their financial support by auctioning 
names, would that be any different? Would it make a difference if an 
auction was performed without the express permission of the institution 
that owned the holotype? Would it matter if the author were making a 
profit *above and beyond* the level of personal support? Would this 
possibly cause a taxonomist to borrow specimens selectively from 
institutions who loan specimens without any strings attached, versus 
institutions that pre-emptively put policies in place requiring 
profit-sharing (in cases where there was profit)? Would it breed 
destructive professional jealousy if dinosaur and vertebrate and 
butterfly name auctions raked in huge amounts of money, while other 
taxonomic disciplines couldn't even get enough public interest to recoup 
their costs (and also thereby further "drain" potential taxonomists away 
from the less glamorous taxa)?

My answer, to all of these, is "*It might*." In that respect, I would 
say that it is questions like these that might be worth our time 
discussing, rather than the present theme. Basically, I feel the 
discussion would be more constructive if it were rephrased as "Can we 
benefit from name auctions AND do so without disrupting or compromising 
good science across all our disciplines?" Name auctions are here, and 
have been for some time, so if there is a need for discussion, then 
let's focus on ways to maximize their positive impacts, and minimize the 


Doug Yanega      Dept. of Entomology       Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314     skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (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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