Friday, September 07, 2007

Well, HERE'S something we haven't talked about yet


Can't enough dough to support your research? How about selling the names of new taxa to the highest bidder?

From this article:

The German research body Patrons of Biodiversity offers a catalogue of frogs and flowers whose scientific naming rights are for sale. And closer to home, the California Academy of Sciences has offered business owners the chance to name one of 600 Madagascan ants after their respective companies: $10,000 bought a species, $25,000 an entire genus.

The academy kicked off its ant auction by naming one of the insects, free of charge, after a popular search engine: Proceratium google. Reactions to the commodification of taxonomy are mixed.

The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature denounced Biopat's service as "a striking departure from scientific tradition" that could "irreversibly obscure science and hinder conservation efforts." F. Christian Thompson, a scientist at The Smithsonian, backed the concept as a valid means of supporting research but argued that "anything less (than $250,000) is just selling our science too cheaply."

Michael Swanwick included this very thing in his novel Bones of the Earth. At one point there was a mention of Exxonsaurus.

From what I've read, rainforest entomologists are considered young whippersnappers until they've named at least 100 new taxa, and once you're seasoned it is considered extremely gauche to even remember the exact number of new taxa that you've named (usually in the mid to high hundreds for productive workers). With all the names flying around I am tempted to say, "Rock on!" but I can't help thinking that the taxonomy might WILL get skewed if splitting is lucrative and lumping is not.

Do you have to give the money back if the taxon you named for Corporation X gets sunk?

Or suppose you name a new species after CorpX, but later it is elevated to the rank of genus. Can you hit them up for more money? Sounds ridiculous, but you could have such a clause added to the contract, I suppose.

In-ter-est-ing.

If someone will just point me to the big leather and mahogany office where you sell out, we'll see how much my righteous indignation is really worth.

Hat tip to Dan Chure, who brought this to the attention of the Dinosaur Mailing List, and to Mike Taylor, who forwarded it to me.

The picture, by the way, is my youngest brother, Ryan, looking super-awesome on the Sinclair Brontosaurus (yeah, you heard me) in Hennessey, Oklahoma. And by 'super-awesome' I mean 'super-retarded'.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Laelaps said...

Yikes, talk about selling out... it's probably a good thing that they started this after the dot com bust a few years back, although in that case the names would be obscure either way.

And speaking of misshapen dinosaurs, my brother recently visited a park in CT with some rather odd looking critters that were being pawned off as "dinosaurs." At least the Sinclair dinos have some historical value (however minor), and I still wouldn't mind eventually finding one of the pamphlets Barnum Brown wrote for them way back when.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous dinogami said...

Can't enough dough to support your research? How about selling the names of new taxa to the highest bidder?

Well, I dunno about outright selling of a name, but I've thought about names in exchange for sponsorships -- that is, if a company wanted to sponsor some project of mine (and provide free product), AND if I happened to find something that genuinely was new, I'd name it after them. Of course, I would have the good taste to only pursue sponsorships from corporations that are highly relevant to vertebrate paleontology, so we could end up with taxa like Samadamssaurus, Budweiseria, and Negromodelia. In exchange, they could use us in ads, too.

(OK, not Budweiseria -- I'd only pursue actual beer companies.)

4:49 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

The thing about selling out is that you have to have something that other people want in order to do it.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I'm sure has already been pointed out on listservs, there is already Atlascopcosaurus, a hypsilophodontid from the Cretaceous of Australia - named for the company that donated money to the dig. And how is it any different from naming species after benefactors - as was common in the 19th and early 20th century? I got no problem with it.

Randy

5:07 PM  
Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

While I recognise the arguable tackiness of selling off names, I'm worried that with funding for taxonomy being in the state that it's in, it's probably unavoidable. As someone who has described a couple of species, I would say that thinking of the name is arguably the part of the process that's the most fun, so I wouldn't give up that privilege lightly.

Splitting for the sake of new names has always held a certain appeal to those who want to see their name in print as much as possible.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

As I intimated in the post, I am not fully for this or against this. In the case of Atlascopsosaurus, I find nothing to object to. I have no problem with getting more money for fieldwork. I don't think that there is anything sacrosanct about biological nomenclature that precludes honoring donors/selling out. Finally, if someone wanted to give me a big pile of cash for the name of a new taxon, I'd probably sign so fast that it would make your head spin.

HOWEVER, I also acknowledge the power of money to corrupt. And in my tender years I have already seen too much taxonomic hanky-panky. I don't just mean taxa whose foundation is perhaps shakier than we would like. I mean people gratuitously (IMHO) naming bullshit just to inflate...whatever. I have a hard time believing that kind of crap won't proliferate wildly if there are big piles of cash at stake.

5:22 PM  

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