Monday, March 4, 2013

Image for The Etymology of Entomology


Tune into BBC Radio 4 on Saturday, March 9th, at 10:30 AM GMT as Dr. George McGavin hosts an tour of some the unusual and odd scientific names given to insect species.  I was interviewed for the program but have not heard the few minutes that may have survived the cutting room floor or any of the bulk of the program.  I am just delighted to see zoological nomenclature get some overdue attention.  Praises of the fantastic work of thousands of taxonomic zoologists, of the dedicated staff of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), and of the funding stewardship of the International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature (ITZN) are rarely sung.  Zoological nomenclature gives us a precise language with which to talk about literally millions of species, binominal unique identifiers for those species with which modern databases can be organized, and, thanks to the Linnaean tradition, a system of names that is sufficiently flexible to adapt to unanticipated growth in knowledge of phylogeny.  It would be easy to curl into a fetal ball and weep over the loss of species during the ongoing biodiversity crisis.  One thing that keeps taxonomists going is a sense of humor.  This sometimes seeps through the nomenclatural process and other times explodes through.  Whether subtle or in your face, humorous or ironic, dark or light hearted, zoologists have and continue to come up with names that simultaneously fulfill the requirements of the Code and science to give unto each species a unique name and allow a bit of individual personality to shine show, too.  Taxonomists have a particularly intimate relationship with the species they discover and it is fitting that species and their names reside at the interface of science and humanity.  I look forward to hearing the program and unless I am surprised by some diversion from the typical excellence of BBC and of Radio 4's producers, it should be worth the wait.  More information can be found at:

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