Some Scientists Advocate Against Naming Organisms After Individuals | Scientific Research

The process of naming different species has been the cornerstone of scientific research for years to ensure that scientific names remain uniform across various fields and research labs. This has led to quite a few species named after people, also known as eponyms. Such names may commemorate the original collector, a scientist’s family member, a benefactor or government leader, a colleague, or even a celebrity. Analysis suggests that approximately 20% of all animal names in use are eponyms. Many species were named during the early years of scientific collection driven by colonization programs worldwide throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

However, experts are now calling for a move to eliminate eponyms entirely as the Earth’s biodiversity is part of global heritage and should not be trivialized by association with any single human individual, regardless of their perceived worth. Nevertheless, this has sparked a contentious and ongoing debate, with scientific institutions responsible for approving new species names remaining firm. The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), which controls the naming of animal species, prioritizes older names and refrains from altering them unless for scientific and stability purposes.

Proposals to rename species based on social or political grounds have drawn both support and criticism. The Rhodes Must Fall movement, the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, and the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer resulted in discussions in the botanical sciences and ornithology about replacing culturally inappropriate and offensive names. However, some taxonomists argue that renaming species injects political considerations into taxonomy, leading to thorny questions.

The issue with eponyms is that the practice is inextricably linked to science’s colonial history, with many past researchers being from colonizing European nations. Therefore, many species were named after white, male, upper-class Europeans. In Africa alone, a quarter of the continent’s native vertebrates, that is 1,565 species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, are eponyms, most of which honor colonizers or people of colonial descent.

While the move to eliminate eponyms entirely may be ethically sound, practically, it’s unfeasible since overturning all prior eponyms will be difficult. However, the ICZN could put taxonomists of the species’ native region in charge of renaming proposals. Some scientists argue that eponyms are positive since it’s a chance to involve communities that don’t generally pay attention to such discoveries. Eponyms can also name species after scientists from countries where they were found. Regardless, it’s essential to tighten the ICZN code’s rules to restrict naming eponyms going forward to avoid further contentions.

 

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