Some time ago I wrote about two papers in science journals urging taxonomists to stop using people’s names when naming new species (“eponyms”). One paper at issue was in Nature Ecology & Evolution (click below to read):
The Guedes et al. paper included stuff like this:
From a contemporary perspective this is potentially problematic, as many of those honoured are strongly associated with the social ills and negative legacy of imperialism, racism and slavery. Moreover, 19th-century and early 20th-century taxonomy was largely dominated by white men who, by and large, honoured other men (funders, colleagues, collectors and so on) of their own nationality, ethnicity, race and social status. For example, a recent study has documented that over 60% of the eponyms given to the flora of New Caledonia have honoured French citizens and that 94% of the eponyms were named after a man.
I believe that they were arguing about scientific species names: Latin binomials like Setophaga auduboni, whose common name is Audubon’s warbler (Audubon, of course, has been canceled), but the argument could also apply to common names (“Audubon’s warbler”). It’s an ideological argument.
Although I strongly oppose changing scientific names already given (it’s not allowed for animals), and am not so keen on changing already-used common names, either, you can make a good argument that even new common names are okay if they’re named after who we see as decent human beings. Several reasons to keep eponyms for both common and scientific names were made in a rebuttal paper whose first author, Lou Jost, is a reader here (he’s a biologist who works for the EcoMinga foundation in Ecuador).
Here’s the abstract of Jost et al.:
Guedes et al. argue that eponymous scientific names, despite their long tradition in biology, have no place in the modern world. They want to erase eponyms assigned to species in the past and want scientists to stop naming new species after people. Both of these proposals would hurt science, and disproportionately hurt science in the Global South — the region that is supposed to be the primary beneficiary of their proposal.
Well, today at noon Eastern US time and 11 a.m. Chicago time (that’s also Quito time), the authors are going to duke out this issue in a podcast sponsored by the Society of Conservation Biology. The pugilists will be Patricia Guedes in one corner and Lou and one of his coauthors in the other. (There may be other participants whom I don’t yet know.)
If you’re interested in listening to this podcast, you can do so for free simply by going to the site below and registering. Once you give your name and email, they’ll email you a link to the Zoom session. Click the screenshot to start the short process:
I’m rooting for Lou & Company, and not because his foundation is buying up rainforest that will help save many species, including a frog named Atelopus coynei!