External Email - Exercise Caution
Max and Colleagues:
I have used humorous names on several occasions: longichomperus, nodanotherwon, boondocksius, tetraspermexitus, botox, unamas. I believe it is fine to have some fun with our science as long as is not insulting or vulgar. It may also help to dissuade the general public from believing scientists are all serious, unimaginative, and dull as often portrayed in the entertainment industry . . . which is where much of the public gets their view of the world.
When I named new Gymnetis species after the 3 dragons (drogoni, rhaeagalli, and viserioni) in Game of Thrones, it created a worldwide, cascading, media frenzy (newspapers, magazines, TV news, internet postings), all of which brought positive notoriety to our museum, university, and science. It also increased public awareness that new species were still being discovered . . . where there are intact habitats. The downstream message of this is the importance of habitat conservation coupled with concerns about climate change. Were those 3 names merely descriptive, then none of this would have happened. Names that are humorous or otherwise unusual can be entertaining and educational.
We need the public on our side as much as possible since, bottom line, their taxes support our mission of exploration and discovery. Nomenclaturally engaging the public in our new discoveries is somewhat analogous to having public exhibits in our natural history museums. Exhibits entertain and educate. The Rules recommend no humor in scientific names, but I think this reflects antiquated thinking where science was supposed to be “serious.” Au contraire. This is not the same as responsible.
If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.
— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac
The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.
If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.
—— Henry Poincaré
Brett C. Ratcliffe
Curator & Professor
Systematics Research Collections
W436 Nebraska Hall
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, NE 68588-0514 USA
TEL: (402) 472-2614
FAX: (402) 472-8949
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Asking this in a contained friendly group, rather than splurging it on Twitter or Facebook- to see what people think.
What is your opinion/ experience of public/media reaction to scientific names given in honour of e.g. comedians, cartoon characters, politicians, rock stars? Or names that are supposed to be humourous like some of Terry Erwin's (Agra vation, Agra phobia etc.).
I am torn between:
a) all publicity is good publicity- getting taxonomy in the news is always good
b) "this sounds trivial, are they having a laugh - why do taxpayers have to pay for such frivolity"
I would really like to hear some views/ anecdotes about whether or not this is a good idea...