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Poll - Do you agree or disagree with the AOS's recent decision to abandon the use of eponymous bird names? (1 Viewer)

The AOS is proposing to change all English bird names currently named after people. Do you agree?

  • Agree

    Votes: 93 25.7%
  • Disagree

    Votes: 215 59.4%
  • No strong feelings either way.

    Votes: 49 13.5%
  • Don't know, need more information

    Votes: 5 1.4%

  • Total voters
    362
Any one ever seen the film Supposing they gave a war and nobody came? It seems to me that everybody is enslaved to what ever "they" decide is happening as far as taxonomical changes go. I can understand why people do it if the geneticists discover that x is really y and never really belonged in z in the first place.

One issue I can't ignore is that I feel I've perceived the AOS having less and less influence over the years. Prior to this issue with eponymous names, I've observed more sources using IOC instead of AOS taxonomy, observed more and more criticisms of AOS decisions, observed eBird/Clements using taxonomies and naming conventions that conflict with AOS... and seen the American Birding Association treat the AOS taxonomy and nomenclature as secondary to Clements, which was a big shocker to me.

So suppose they gave a taxonomy and nobody adopted it?

After this trend comes the abrupt and hasty (in my opinion) rollout of the eponym controversy. I won't draw any conclusions, but it gives a lot to wonder about.

Certain groups have expressed at least nominal support - though I haven't seen the degree to which it is tacit. And certainly not committed (as expected - even for supporters it would be early). There will be big questions on the acceptance of new names - not only for organizations at large, but how do those organizations deal with the individuals who may or may not accept them. It will raise questions of whether common names should even be "codified" to begin with. People and organizations may or may not choose to participate in this war. To take a recent example, there is still plenty of hesitancy to use the term "X" without at least mentioning "you know - Twitter really" because linguistic change can't really be dictated in a high-end communication society such as ours... there must be buy-in.

On the other topic, I think the comparisons to the several historical political movements gives the Bird Names For Birds movement both too much and too little credit in different ways - or perhaps its better stated that while there are obvious connections to identity politics, this strikes me not as a major force of political power-play, but instead something new: an attempt to intentionally reshape a little corner of English language in accordance with a political idealism. At least its something interesting to go on about.
 
One issue I can't ignore is that I feel I've perceived the AOS having less and less influence over the years. Prior to this issue with eponymous names, I've observed more sources using IOC instead of AOS taxonomy, observed more and more criticisms of AOS decisions, observed eBird/Clements using taxonomies and naming conventions that conflict with AOS... and seen the American Birding Association treat the AOS taxonomy and nomenclature as secondary to Clements, which was a big shocker to me.

So suppose they gave a taxonomy and nobody adopted it?

After this trend comes the abrupt and hasty (in my opinion) rollout of the eponym controversy. I won't draw any conclusions, but it gives a lot to wonder about.

Certain groups have expressed at least nominal support - though I haven't seen the degree to which it is tacit. And certainly not committed (as expected - even for supporters it would be early). There will be big questions on the acceptance of new names - not only for organizations at large, but how do those organizations deal with the individuals who may or may not accept them. It will raise questions of whether common names should even be "codified" to begin with. People and organizations may or may not choose to participate in this war. To take a recent example, there is still plenty of hesitancy to use the term "X" without at least mentioning "you know - Twitter really" because linguistic change can't really be dictated in a high-end communication society such as ours... there must be buy-in.

On the other topic, I think the comparisons to the several historical political movements gives the Bird Names For Birds movement both too much and too little credit in different ways - or perhaps its better stated that while there are obvious connections to identity politics, this strikes me not as a major force of political power-play, but instead something new: an attempt to intentionally reshape a little corner of English language in accordance with a political idealism. At least its something interesting to go on about.
I think we both tend to be on the same wavelength about this. For better or worse, there is just a general erosion of support for established organizations, a lot of it because of just how the internet operates. And while birding and ornithology are related interests, they also are very different, and organizations that cater to them may have different needs.

I think the thing I am most interested in seeing is what happens when the WGAC releases there checklist. Will they automatically defer to AOS, or will they go there own way. If they go there own way, what will ABA do? Field Guide authors? And will WGAC start evaluating things separately from AOS entirely? Like, could they vote for a three way Steller's Jay split before AOS even gets a proposal? Ultimately ebird has far more sway than either the ABA or AOS, and where they go I think the majority of the birding public will as well.
 
One issue I can't ignore is that I feel I've perceived the AOS having less and less influence over the years. Prior to this issue with eponymous names, I've observed more sources using IOC instead of AOS taxonomy, observed more and more criticisms of AOS decisions, observed eBird/Clements using taxonomies and naming conventions that conflict with AOS... and seen the American Birding Association treat the AOS taxonomy and nomenclature as secondary to Clements, which was a big shocker to me.

So suppose they gave a taxonomy and nobody adopted it?

After this trend comes the abrupt and hasty (in my opinion) rollout of the eponym controversy. I won't draw any conclusions, but it gives a lot to wonder about.

Certain groups have expressed at least nominal support - though I haven't seen the degree to which it is tacit. And certainly not committed (as expected - even for supporters it would be early). There will be big questions on the acceptance of new names - not only for organizations at large, but how do those organizations deal with the individuals who may or may not accept them. It will raise questions of whether common names should even be "codified" to begin with. People and organizations may or may not choose to participate in this war. To take a recent example, there is still plenty of hesitancy to use the term "X" without at least mentioning "you know - Twitter really" because linguistic change can't really be dictated in a high-end communication society such as ours... there must be buy-in.

On the other topic, I think the comparisons to the several historical political movements gives the Bird Names For Birds movement both too much and too little credit in different ways - or perhaps its better stated that while there are obvious connections to identity politics, this strikes me not as a major force of political power-play, but instead something new: an attempt to intentionally reshape a little corner of English language in accordance with a political idealism. At least its something interesting to go on about.

I think we both tend to be on the same wavelength about this. For better or worse, there is just a general erosion of support for established organizations, a lot of it because of just how the internet operates. And while birding and ornithology are related interests, they also are very different, and organizations that cater to them may have different needs.

I think the thing I am most interested in seeing is what happens when the WGAC releases there checklist. Will they automatically defer to AOS, or will they go there own way. If they go there own way, what will ABA do? Field Guide authors? And will WGAC start evaluating things separately from AOS entirely? Like, could they vote for a three way Steller's Jay split before AOS even gets a proposal? Ultimately ebird has far more sway than either the ABA or AOS, and where they go I think the majority of the birding public will as well.
I agree with both of you. The thing about relevance, people being ignored tend to do stupid things. It may even be a clever game play, where they do a u-turn at the 11th hour after somebody is "sacrificed", but actually only moves on to pastures new. People will see that they are coming round to the sensible way of thinking, but more importantly, they have had their moment of glory.

Something things happens with dictators, when faced with their own mortality, through whatever, often mental or physical illness, they want to make a big name for themselves, or just get angry. It normally occurs for all the wrong reasons. The trigger may be just an overheard comment in the corridors of power, or a pecieved slight. Any publicity is good publicity when you are losing relevance
 
I have had similar thoughts to what you are saying, Kirk Roth and Mysticete... essentially in cases like these, the organizations are long existing entities that kind of gave themselves their own authority long ago, and have maintained that authority not through any higher (ie government) mandate but rather because they were respected and their decisions were treated as authoritative by the space they operate in. As mentioned, eBird is now the 800lb gorilla. Beyond eBird, guidebook authors are the next most important set of "users" of anything the AOS produces. I could imagine a world where AOS plods on for a while doing their own thing while eBird and guidebooks and IOC/WGAC kind of head off in another direction but I don't think that will happen. Sort of the way we are seeing SACC go through a rash of proposals to either put their stamp on or declare their disagreement with WGAC decisions, and the way NACC is now no longer responsible for english names, I suspect that AOS will likely get pulled further towards reacting more quickly and listening to the public more. And arguably the way they approached the english names / BN4B debate, even if not done tremendously well, does reflect that. They listened to the public (at least a portion of it) and formed a committee to make a recommendation then followed that recommendation. As pointed out, it's the new internet age and a lot of bodies no longer have a priori authority but rather depend on people caring what they they have to say and respecting their opinions and decisions. This is both good and bad for many reasons. At the moment it looks to be a bit of a tail wagging the dog situation where AOS / NACC / SACC are now in a more complex landscape and changes in how things operate are visible. I assume more changes will come.
 
I think we both tend to be on the same wavelength about this. For better or worse, there is just a general erosion of support for established organizations, a lot of it because of just how the internet operates. And while birding and ornithology are related interests, they also are very different, and organizations that cater to them may have different needs.

I think the thing I am most interested in seeing is what happens when the WGAC releases there checklist. Will they automatically defer to AOS, or will they go there own way. If they go there own way, what will ABA do? Field Guide authors? And will WGAC start evaluating things separately from AOS entirely? Like, could they vote for a three way Steller's Jay split before AOS even gets a proposal? Ultimately ebird has far more sway than either the ABA or AOS, and where they go I think the majority of the birding public will as well.
Birders are the ones who buy the most field guides, if they vote with their money, people such as Kaufmann will see a dip in sales.
 
Birders are the ones who buy the most field guides, if they vote with their money, people such as Kaufmann will see a dip in sales.
While I agree that is the case for most field guides, especially specialist ones, the big American field guides tend to be easily available for purchase in book stores and nature centers, and I suspect the majority of folks who purchase a Sibley/Kaufman/Nat Geo are more casual in there interests. Kaufman isn't even number one or two. Hardcore birders are carrying around Sibley or Nat Geo, or maybe if they are a much older generation sticking with familiar Peterson or Golden Guide. So birders boycotting Kaufman isn't going to hurt sales much.

That is of course ignoring also that probably most hardcore birders (the type to get angry about this), if they ever had interest in a Kaufman guide, probably already own one.
 
While I agree that is the case for most field guides, especially specialist ones, the big American field guides tend to be easily available for purchase in book stores and nature centers, and I suspect the majority of folks who purchase a Sibley/Kaufman/Nat Geo are more casual in there interests. Kaufman isn't even number one or two. Hardcore birders are carrying around Sibley or Nat Geo, or maybe if they are a much older generation sticking with familiar Peterson or Golden Guide. So birders boycotting Kaufman isn't going to hurt sales much.

That is of course ignoring also that probably most hardcore birders (the type to get angry about this), if they ever had interest in a Kaufman guide, probably already own one.
Of course, hence, they won't be buying a new one (and why can you not resist, mentioning a 'type' in your opinion), just to accommodate the name changes and I expect old names, that is, eponyms, to continue to thrive.

Most 'hardcore' birders, are of the 'type', to own several guides for each country as there are tiny details in one book that may not appear in another.
 
Regarding North American field guides, any predictions are just darts thrown in the dark, but I can't resist so here are mine... based of course on the assumption that these name changes actually come to be, which is still questionable in my opinion:

- National Geographic has already announced that the next edition will be their last. It is already under production. Even if new names came out tomorrow, they would not be in this or any edition of Nat Geo.

- Sibley has only two editions and they are old and slow coming. Updates come more readily to the mobile app - which is where I see the bigger action to be in North American Field Guides. If a wholesale new name regime came about, that may be enough to inspire a 3rd print edition - because whether you like it or not there will be a market for it of some size. But Sibley would also have the option to ignore print altogether (...as they may already be doing?) and just provide updates to the app. My understanding is that this would be technically easy for them - they could even offer an option to switch between "old" and "new" names - or display multiple names. Another thought is the 2nd edition is only just a bit out of date taxonomically. I wouldn't recommend it, but they might be able to get away with another printing with some new names, rather than a whole edition. I could envision an either/or approach to naming in the Sibley Guides e.g "Wilson's / Black-capped Warbler" at the top or what have you. Sibley guides are something of a "field manual" in nature - technical illustrations with an upstroke and a downstroke posture, very formulaic and reference-oriented it seems. I think they would want old and new names to be the go-to for reference between them, which will certainly be a necessary niche.

- On the topic of apps, perhaps the last edition of Nat Geo opens the door for the resurrection of their app?

-Kaufman has not had a new edition since 2005, so forgive me but I've seen a lot of discussion that seems quaint for someone who has been out of the field guide game for almost 20 years. That said, the Kaufman guides have always been leading in terms of making natural history "accessible" to layfolk (e.g. the only major Spanish language North American guides, photo illustrations, field mark arrows, and language that in my opinion surpasses Peterson's in terms of "common" language use vs. technical language). Even ignoring Kenn Kaufman's commentary, this set of guides is poised well for catering to new names. As has been pointed out here, the main audience for this will probably not be the same as the traditional Sibley/Nat Geo crowd but if a more technically oriented person wants a guide with the new names - this is my best bet for the guide with the most "identification value" that might adopt the changes in print.

- The machine behind the Peterson guides has no problem churning out these printings. The 7th edition was printed in 2020. They could get away with a simple reprinting and not even a new edition, and still accommodate the name changes. I think this would be a high likelihood bet for accommodating name changes, but a low chance that anything else about the book would change. Thusly, less buzz for sales than, for example, a 3rd edition Kaufman guide would produce.

- There will be smaller tier guides with marketing people who will see the opportunity to produce something. Somewhere in the Stokes/Smithsonian/Audubon Society (insert irony here) range, or some new name who can produce a cheap photographic guide with new names. These could catch on among those who the name changes are important to, but will have limited value for actual ID use.

- Then of course the legendary Princeton Guide... shrouded in mystery and fog... the birders waiting for decades for it to poke its head out of the Loch. It's even more irresponsible to guess than all of the above. But I'll buy it no matter what names they use. The idea that this name controversy would cause even further delay is something of an uneasy joke - a ton of capital has been sunk into this project, so I would expect that the eponym process will not figure into their scheduling. This will come out when its good and ready whether that is ten months or ten years from now, and it will be the new powerhouse. I think it is printed with whatever accepted names at the time, with a reprint if there is a dump of new names. And I would expect a slick app.
 
- Then of course the legendary Princeton Guide... shrouded in mystery and fog... the birders waiting for decades for it to poke its head out of the Loch. It's even more irresponsible to guess than all of the above. But I'll buy it no matter what names they use. The idea that this name controversy would cause even further delay is something of an uneasy joke - a ton of capital has been sunk into this project, so I would expect that the eponym process will not figure into their scheduling. This will come out when its good and ready whether that is ten months or ten years from now, and it will be the new powerhouse. I think it is printed with whatever accepted names at the time, with a reprint if there is a dump of new names. And I would expect a slick app.

One of the authors of the Princeton Guide is Steve Howell who has been outspoken about his dislike for the AOS decision, but of course that does not necessarily mean anything about how the guide itself will deal with bird names. In addition to Ian Lewington, the other illustrator for this guide is Lorenzo Starnini, who might not be a household name (yet), but whose work matches that of Ian Lewington in style and quality.

Circling back to the discussion of the relevance of AOS/NACC, I feel that as birders we are often very opinionated about taxonomic matters, but our opinions don't necessarily rest upon solid foundations of knowledge. Last year on a trip to Guatemala I saw Ridgway's Rough-winged Swallow for the first time, and thought that it looked so different from Northern Rough-winged Swallow that a split should be a no-brainer. The last batch of NACC proposals happens to include one for splitting Ridgway's from Northern Rough-winged Swallow, with a recommended "no" vote, and reading it I learned a lot about the situation and realized that my snap judgement of "obvious split" is nowhere near as obvious as I thought. To me this is the true relevance of a committee that "shows its work", and I would be disappointed to see it lose a popularity contest to a more split-happy committee like IOC whose decisions often just seem to accept the latest publications at face value.

And as far as field guides and taxonomy go, I feel the best approach is that taken by Steve Howell in his Costa Rica or Seabirds guides: treat 'potential species' as full species for field identification purposes (which is what we do as birders anyway), and let the taxonomists decide where to draw the lines using different criteria.
 
Of course, hence, they won't be buying a new one just to accommodate the name changes and I expect old names, that is, eponyms, to continue to thrive.
I'd be the opposite - I wouldn't buy if it were to be a drip drip drip of name changes, a few every year, but I certainly will if they go ahead with a single change across the board.
 
Regarding North American field guides, any predictions are just darts thrown in the dark, but I can't resist so here are mine... based of course on the assumption that these name changes actually come to be, which is still questionable in my opinion:

- National Geographic has already announced that the next edition will be their last. It is already under production. Even if new names came out tomorrow, they would not be in this or any edition of Nat Geo.
This is the first I have heard about the Nat Geo guide being "finished" after the next update. I was aware that it has new authors but not that it was no longer going to be supported. It's the only guide that is/was regularly updated, not to mention the only one trying to be "complete". I think this guide becoming obsolete is a huge blow to the birding community, and without seeing the Princeton guide I am not sure it will fill that niche...
 
I know I'm one of the few people to get wound up about this issue, but if the purported Princeton guide gets published as a guide to North American birds and skips everything south of the US/MX border, I'll give it a pass. It's really ridiculous to see this any more, and it's disappointing to see people (ie, the authors of the new flycatcher series) actively defending it as something that "everyone understands so it's ok."

I really am still pretty in the middle of the eponyms issue. I dislike eponyms and while I sort of philosophically align with more of the folks in the pro-change camp, I dislike so much disruption and the outmoding of so many printed books. But calling newly printed guides to the US and Canada guides to North America is f*cking lame and should be called out and the authors should be ashamed.
 
I know I'm one of the few people to get wound up about this issue, but if the purported Princeton guide gets published as a guide to North American birds and skips everything south of the US/MX border, I'll give it a pass. It's really ridiculous to see this any more, and it's disappointing to see people (ie, the authors of the new flycatcher series) actively defending it as something that "everyone understands so it's ok."

What's this 'flycatcher series'?

Why would they not include birds South of the US/MX border?

Sweeping statements such as "everyone understands so it's ok.", are absolutely typical, of a tiny, section of society which tries to assert their moral superiority in claiming to speak for us all and when they get some push back, the smug, name calling starts.
 
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What's this 'flycatcher series'?
I assume it's the Field Guide to North American Flycatchers series, of which Empidonax and Pewees has been published. Just like every other guide referring to "North America", it only covers the US and Canada.

I have yet to fathom how a very mild inaccuracy which everyone understands and uses would cause one to boycott a field guide, nor how new authors following this well-established naming tradition is shameful.
 
I know I'm one of the few people to get wound up about this issue, but if the purported Princeton guide gets published as a guide to North American birds and skips everything south of the US/MX border, I'll give it a pass. It's really ridiculous to see this any more, and it's disappointing to see people (ie, the authors of the new flycatcher series) actively defending it as something that "everyone understands so it's ok."

I really am still pretty in the middle of the eponyms issue. I dislike eponyms and while I sort of philosophically align with more of the folks in the pro-change camp, I dislike so much disruption and the outmoding of so many printed books. But calling newly printed guides to the US and Canada guides to North America is f*cking lame and should be called out and the authors should be ashamed.
What's this 'flycatcher series'?

Why would they not include birds South of the US/MX border?

Sweeping statements such as "everyone understands so it's ok.", are absolutely typical, of a tiny, section of society which tries to assert their moral superiority in claiming to speak for us all and when they get some push back, the smug, name calling starts.
Pretty much any guide to "birds of North America" only includes in Canada, the continental US, and Alaska. Some older guides also include Greenland, and some newer guides also include Hawaii. Mexico and anything south of it are never included in any guide with such a title.


To be fair to the authors, birders in the part of the part of the world always mean "the ABA area" when they say North America, not the literal geographic definition of North America. So it won't exactly be a surprise to any consumers. And, of course, including just Mexico in your field guide area would nearly double the amount of species to include.
 
the organizations are long existing entities that kind of gave themselves their own authority long ago, and have maintained that authority not through any higher (ie government) mandate but rather because they were respected and their decisions were treated as authoritative by the space they operate in.

I find the issue of authority from the point of view of the AOS is a bit intriguing, actually.

In a FAQ list, the council explained "the basis of AOS's authority over bird names" by stating that "Since 1886, the AOS and its predecessor, the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU), have maintained a list of official English-language names for birds in North America", and that these names are de facto widely used by all kinds of users.
However, since 1886, it's actually the checklist committee of the AOU/S which has maintained this list. This list has, arguably, been treated as authoritative (by users outside of the AOU/S) largely because the checklist committee was regarded as authoritative. And the checklist committee, in turn, has been regarded as authoritative mainly because its members, having been chosen among highly praised ornithologists and taxonomists, were themselves regarded as authoritative.
The obvious question that springs to mind here is : Can the council, really, legitimately, claim an authority over English names (as used by users beyond the limits of the AOU/S) that would be rooted in history, moments after having taken these names away from the checklist committee, which since 1886 had full authority over them...?
 
I find the issue of authority from the point of view of the AOS is a bit intriguing, actually.

In a FAQ list, the council explained "the basis of AOS's authority over bird names" by stating that "Since 1886, the AOS and its predecessor, the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU), have maintained a list of official English-language names for birds in North America", and that these names are de facto widely used by all kinds of users.
However, since 1886, it's actually the checklist committee of the AOU/S which has maintained this list. This list has, arguably, been treated as authoritative (by users outside of the AOU/S) largely because the checklist committee was regarded as authoritative. And the checklist committee, in turn, has been regarded as authoritative mainly because its members, having been chosen among highly praised ornithologists and taxonomists, were themselves regarded as authoritative.
The obvious question that springs to mind here is : Can the council, really, legitimately, claim an authority over English names (as used by users beyond the limits of the AOU/S) that would be rooted in history, moments after having taken these names away from the checklist committee, which since 1886 had full authority over them...?
Yes
 
I have yet to fathom how a very mild inaccuracy which everyone understands and uses would cause one to boycott a field guide, nor how new authors following this well-established naming tradition is shameful.
To be fair to the authors, birders in the part of the part of the world always mean "the ABA area" when they say North America, not the literal geographic definition of North America. So it won't exactly be a surprise to any consumers. And, of course, including just Mexico in your field guide area would nearly double the amount of species to include.

This is the issue I'm pointing out. It's not a "very mild inaccuracy" and it is widely perpetuated in the birding / ornithological world. There is NO definition of North America that doesn't include Mexico. There are about 180 million people living in North America south of the US border and they might be surprised to find out they don't live in North America. Just because something is "well-established naming tradition" that misuses the "literal geographic definition of North America" doesn't mean it is fine to carry on with. History is full of wildly inaccurate attributions, many of which have, over time, been changed as awareness grows.

To the point that "including Mexico in your field guide would double the number of species to include" I don't think anyone is suggesting that the myriad english language books that call themselves guides to North America should include more species, but rather that they should use appropriate names, which is a trivial change to make.

Just as an example of the mental gymnastics the North American birding world is employing:
  • Most guide books don't include Hawaii despite it being part of both the US and in the ABA. As far as I recall, the Peterson guide is the only major guide to include it, and calls itself the "Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America." Worth noting that Western Mexico is biogeographically, geographically, and politically part of Western North America, Hawaii is only politically part of it.
  • Guide books don't include Puerto Rico despite it being part of the US, probably largely due to Puerto Rico not being included in the ABA area.
  • Guide books don't include Mexico or Central America despite calling themselves guides to North America.
  • Apparently (as stated elsewhere here on BF) some organizations / books are including Greenland within the scope of North American ornithology.
  • A couple of recent guide books do include the Bahamas (at least the "Flycatchers of North America" series previously mentioned).
  • The AOS's own NACC (North American Checklist Committee) website says their coverage includes "North America and Middle America" - Middle America as understood to be Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean is already part of North America, this is redundant.
  • The definition of the ABA is "the 49 continental United States, Hawaii, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less. Bermuda, and Greenland are not included."

So I understand that it's a pain in the ass to name the coverage area for these books, journals, papers, etc, and that the scope of these things is basically driven by where english is spoken and what is in the ABA area. I also understand that the Rio Grande and the break from the Colorado to Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts is a pretty important biogeographic break. But again that doesn't mean that Mexico isn't part of North America. Using North America as a name for an area that excludes the non-english-speaking areas is much further from the truth than other available names such as "The US and Canada," "The ABA Area," "Northern North America," for example. This is not a hard change to make and at some point enough people will get annoyed / complain to publishers and it will get changed. In the meanwhile it strikes me as outdated and ethnocentric.
 

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