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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: 91 25.5%
  • Disagree

    Votes: 212 59.4%
  • No strong feelings either way.

    Votes: 49 13.7%
  • Don't know, need more information

    Votes: 5 1.4%

  • Total voters
    357
Not just any students - biology students, a self-selected group who you might presume would have a basic interest in the natural world, even if they went on to be microbiologists.
This unfortunately translates to a real dearth of taxonomic expertise available in the environmental sector.
18-19 year old biology students, which means at most they have had simply basic biology (kreb's cycle, basic ecology, etc). I doubt I would get much different results here at my school. And biology is a HUGE discipline; here it includes all of your folks interested in fields like biomedical science, which certainly doesn't cater to those with a more naturalist bent
 
I call any Larus species "seagulls" in English and I envy you for having such a practical shorthand that most people easily understand. On the other hand, Czech has a short word for Phylloscopus warblers, so we are even.
 
18-19 year old biology students, which means at most they have had simply basic biology (kreb's cycle, basic ecology, etc). I doubt I would get much different results here at my school. And biology is a HUGE discipline; here it includes all of your folks interested in fields like biomedical science, which certainly doesn't cater to those with a more naturalist bent
But the study was undertaken in UK, where those with an interest in biomedical sciences will be much more likely to be studying for a biomedical science degree. Choosing to study biology implies some level of interest in living organisms, so it is deeply worrying that such a high proportion cannot name five species from any one of five broad taxonomic groups. I - and I would suggest a fair proportion of my class - could name 5 tree species at junior school, because we were taught the different leaf shapes and fruits from the trees around our school, we collected horse chestnut conkers and threw sycamore 'helicopters' into the wind. Now I would guess the teachers would struggle to put a name to the trees around their school, and if they could they wouldn't be able to impart this information because of the target-driven strictures of the national curriculum.
 
I'm closer to your view than Andy's on this but there are a lot of factors at work. People are different and some of that is based on their environment - hard to be engaged by local nature in an inner city, David Lindo notwithstanding - and some on the company they keep. Force doesn't work to get people into birding (e.g. most normal people being pushed into something by parents will simply push back) but peer pressure against being weird does stop it; obsession with people stuff gets in the way; sport/culture/sex/business/drugs/breeding - all mitigate against birding. Look at the people who drop out of twitching at weekends to do really strange stuff like going to Wycombe Wanderers away games....

The thing about birders is they are all volunteers. Which means the cultural shape of birding is the right one and always will be, however it varies in ethnic makeup, size or anything else.

John
Even when I was a council house kid, I was getting things like the Hamlyn, Animal encyclopedia for Christmas, something I treasure to this day. I'm also remembered in the school archives, for turning up at school with a Grass Snake in my blazer pocket, that particular day it would have been taking the space where my 'Observers book of eggs' was routinely kept.
 
But the study was undertaken in UK, where those with an interest in biomedical sciences will be much more likely to be studying for a biomedical science degree. Choosing to study biology implies some level of interest in living organisms, so it is deeply worrying that such a high proportion cannot name five species from any one of five broad taxonomic groups. I - and I would suggest a fair proportion of my class - could name 5 tree species at junior school, because we were taught the different leaf shapes and fruits from the trees around our school, we collected horse chestnut conkers and threw sycamore 'helicopters' into the wind. Now I would guess the teachers would struggle to put a name to the trees around their school, and if they could they wouldn't be able to impart this information because of the target-driven strictures of the national curriculum.
Even though I was a council house brat, the coutryside was still not far away in those days so coming home with all sorts, from buckets of frog spawn, newts or Sticklebacks, a Bullhead if I was lucky, to a jar full of assorted Ladybirds, was the norm.

F John would have loved it, we were less than a mile from the Hucknall, Rolls Royce, engine test bed and we had all sorts flying around besides birds.
 
Even though I was a council house brat, the coutryside was still not far away in those days so coming home with all sorts, from buckets of frog spawn, newts or Sticklebacks, a Bullhead if I was lucky, to a jar full of assorted Ladybirds, was the norm.

F John would have loved it, we were less than a mile from the Hucknall, Rolls Royce, engine test bed and we had all sorts flying around besides birds.
I had RAE Farnborough to play with: everything from Shackletons and Beverley through Scimitars and Buccaneers to Comets and BAC111s. Not to mention the liaison DH Devons and the Dak, originally serialled KG661 till someone discovered that belonged to an aircraft lost in the Berlin Airlift (so what the heck airframe is this then....?!) at which time it was hurriedly grounded, non-destructively tested and returned to flight renumbered ZA947 - a serial later than some early Tornados....

I too found frogspawn and Sticklebacks in the streams, Adders on local commons and knew the name of every tree I climbed. We played hide-and-seek in rushy fields (I remember my brother diving into a big clump and a smart Red Fox shooting out of the far end having been woken from his nap!) and explored everywhere for miles around, returning tired, dirty and frequently soaking wet.

John
 
Not just any students - biology students, a self-selected group who you might presume would have a basic interest in the natural world, even if they went on to be microbiologists.
This unfortunately translates to a real dearth of taxonomic expertise available in the environmental sector.

This is unfair though - how many of us here would ace a survey on the basics of microbiology or medical biology? I'll be honest - I gave a glance at this study and wondered what the real point was. Its not exactly science.

As always, people will seek out the information if they are interested in it - whether that's taxonomy or medicine or foreign language or whatever. But this is something so obvious we don't need a "study" to prove it.
 
I'm closer to your view than Andy's on this but there are a lot of factors at work. People are different and some of that is based on their environment - hard to be engaged by local nature in an inner city, David Lindo notwithstanding - and some on the company they keep. Force doesn't work to get people into birding (e.g. most normal people being pushed into something by parents will simply push back) but peer pressure against being weird does stop it; obsession with people stuff gets in the way; sport/culture/sex/business/drugs/breeding - all mitigate against birding. Look at the people who drop out of twitching at weekends to do really strange stuff like going to Wycombe Wanderers away games....

The thing about birders is they are all volunteers. Which means the cultural shape of birding is the right one and always will be, however it varies in ethnic makeup, size or anything else.

John
"...peer pressure against being weird..." I take your point, John, but the irony is that successful such peer pressure so often turns that group into being considered weird by everyone else...!
MJB
 
This is unfair though - how many of us here would ace a survey on the basics of microbiology or medical biology? I'll be honest - I gave a glance at this study and wondered what the real point was. Its not exactly science.

As always, people will seek out the information if they are interested in it - whether that's taxonomy or medicine or foreign language or whatever. But this is something so obvious we don't need a "study" to prove it.
It's a pity you didn't give more than a glance to the study, because I think your characterisation of it is somewhat unfair. It is indeed 'not exactly science' - it applies, quite correctly, social science methods to explore the veracity of something that many have bemoaned in recent decades - a lack of knowledge and understanding about nature. Anecdotal opinion is 'obvious', but a quantified study like this gives scientific weight and corroboration to what many feel to be true, as well as exploring some of the factors which counteract this trend - such as having two generations of your family with good knowledge of nature.

And sorry, I do find it shocking that only 24.2% of biology students could name 5 trees...and it feeds into a real world problem, with at least a proportion of those interviewed likely harbouring ambitions to enter the private sector environmental consultancy or public / voluntary sector environmental management fields, where there is an acknowledged skill shortage and dearth of taxonomic expertise.
 
"...peer pressure against being weird..." I take your point, John, but the irony is that successful such peer pressure so often turns that group into being considered weird by everyone else...!
MJB
I was thinking more of the mainstream who feel threatened by anybody being different and suppress it by mocking or just straightforward bullying. They make sure what they are - football players at break as well as in PE, Friends watchers, fans of whatever the most mainstream bands are - defines normal so that nonconformity becomes a reason for exclusion. It goes on all the time everywhere: it's impossible to stop. The in-group always defends itself effectively. They only rarely become Heathers. ;)

John
 
It's a pity you didn't give more than a glance to the study, because I think your characterisation of it is somewhat unfair. It is indeed 'not exactly science' - it applies, quite correctly, social science methods to explore the veracity of something that many have bemoaned in recent decades - a lack of knowledge and understanding about nature. Anecdotal opinion is 'obvious', but a quantified study like this gives scientific weight and corroboration to what many feel to be true, as well as exploring some of the factors which counteract this trend - such as having two generations of your family with good knowledge of nature.

And sorry, I do find it shocking that only 24.2% of biology students could name 5 trees...and it feeds into a real world problem, with at least a proportion of those interviewed likely harbouring ambitions to enter the private sector environmental consultancy or public / voluntary sector environmental management fields, where there is an acknowledged skill shortage and dearth of taxonomic expertise.

I'll concede that I gave a hasty and unfair response, however:

- The introduction includes this statement, without a shred of irony - "A study of English folknames of birds in use largely during the 19th century indicates not only a rich knowledge of nature among the country folk of the British Isles, but also that the salience of nature was not confined to the middle classes" However, this study is not designed to measure "rich knowledge of nature" which was indicated in the 19th century by folknames, but somehow contraindicated in our own times by those same names. The intro goes on to decry generational loss of knowledge, which again is not what this study measures, but it does give an impression of bias. The intro also talks about Pokemon and Greta Thunberg, but I digress. After all this about the historic and general nature of British natural understanding- all we get in the study design is the tiny questionnaire.

- The introduction ends with a quote - “Deep down, there's just as much interest in natural history as there ever was, and a lot of evolutionary ecology and animal behaviour studies depend on it, but it has to be dressed up in theory to make it into the prized journals. It's probably true that students’ knowledge of the basic biology of living organisms is now deficient. I get asked questions like ‘What exactly is a lichen?’ and ‘What is basic insect structure?’ But all this is anecdotal. I would need to design an objective survey with lots of sophisticated statistics to be sure!” Why include all this? What does that mean for this study, and especially the motivation behind it? Are we simply looking for statistics to back up our anecdotes (or biases)?

- If so, fine. But then what are we actually measuring here? The questionnaire went to students "prior to a residential ecology field course." I don't know anything about the course, and hardly anything about their backgrounds except that they'd spent over half their life in the UK. I don't know if they passed or failed the course, or whether the course had anything to do with the identification of organisms. I do know that they were primed by "a short lecture about the field course given in Oxford before they left for Orielton" about logistics and travel and possibly other stressful things for freshmen to keep track of - which is a surprising choice if one is interested in assessing taxonomic knowledge. Then the questionnaire asked for five names as specific as possible for different taxa of organisms (their example is "Jack Russell Terrier" instead of "Terrier") - but I missed the student's incentive for achieving this task in an anonymous situation when they have more important things to do. In other words, are we measuring how many students COULD name so many taxa or how many students WOULD? An important distinction if we are using this study to draw general conclusions on the British populace at large.

- What is measured here is the willingness of 149 18-19 year old pre-ecology students to give specific answers in this situation which must have seemed trivial for most of them. What it does not measure is the real world problem of ecological understanding, nomenclature awareness of the animals and plants around them, anything about the generational issues that they go on about in the introduction, or knowledge, connection and understanding of nature (which of course is not dependent on correct nomenclature).

I'll be more blunt than before - these flaws can be picked out at a glance. What is shocking to me is that people who have given it far more attention than I have edited, accepted, and blessed this paper for publication as it is. If this paper were presented as an assessment of incoming students to a particular type of ecology program - sure, that is relevant. But as a measurement of the "Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge" - I'm sorry but one needs more than a 150 sample size of incoming freshmen to assess such a thing.

I'm not saying that the paper is without value, and I'm not saying it's not shocking that only a quarter of British ecology students would be able to name five trees to a specific common name. But I'm saying this paper does not really indicate that is the case.
 
I'll concede that I gave a hasty and unfair response, however:

- The introduction includes this statement, without a shred of irony - "A study of English folknames of birds in use largely during the 19th century indicates not only a rich knowledge of nature among the country folk of the British Isles, but also that the salience of nature was not confined to the middle classes" However, this study is not designed to measure "rich knowledge of nature" which was indicated in the 19th century by folknames, but somehow contraindicated in our own times by those same names. The intro goes on to decry generational loss of knowledge, which again is not what this study measures, but it does give an impression of bias. The intro also talks about Pokemon and Greta Thunberg, but I digress. After all this about the historic and general nature of British natural understanding- all we get in the study design is the tiny questionnaire.

- The introduction ends with a quote - “Deep down, there's just as much interest in natural history as there ever was, and a lot of evolutionary ecology and animal behaviour studies depend on it, but it has to be dressed up in theory to make it into the prized journals. It's probably true that students’ knowledge of the basic biology of living organisms is now deficient. I get asked questions like ‘What exactly is a lichen?’ and ‘What is basic insect structure?’ But all this is anecdotal. I would need to design an objective survey with lots of sophisticated statistics to be sure!” Why include all this? What does that mean for this study, and especially the motivation behind it? Are we simply looking for statistics to back up our anecdotes (or biases)?

- If so, fine. But then what are we actually measuring here? The questionnaire went to students "prior to a residential ecology field course." I don't know anything about the course, and hardly anything about their backgrounds except that they'd spent over half their life in the UK. I don't know if they passed or failed the course, or whether the course had anything to do with the identification of organisms. I do know that they were primed by "a short lecture about the field course given in Oxford before they left for Orielton" about logistics and travel and possibly other stressful things for freshmen to keep track of - which is a surprising choice if one is interested in assessing taxonomic knowledge. Then the questionnaire asked for five names as specific as possible for different taxa of organisms (their example is "Jack Russell Terrier" instead of "Terrier") - but I missed the student's incentive for achieving this task in an anonymous situation when they have more important things to do. In other words, are we measuring how many students COULD name so many taxa or how many students WOULD? An important distinction if we are using this study to draw general conclusions on the British populace at large.

- What is measured here is the willingness of 149 18-19 year old pre-ecology students to give specific answers in this situation which must have seemed trivial for most of them. What it does not measure is the real world problem of ecological understanding, nomenclature awareness of the animals and plants around them, anything about the generational issues that they go on about in the introduction, or knowledge, connection and understanding of nature (which of course is not dependent on correct nomenclature).

I'll be more blunt than before - these flaws can be picked out at a glance. What is shocking to me is that people who have given it far more attention than I have edited, accepted, and blessed this paper for publication as it is. If this paper were presented as an assessment of incoming students to a particular type of ecology program - sure, that is relevant. But as a measurement of the "Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge" - I'm sorry but one needs more than a 150 sample size of incoming freshmen to assess such a thing.

I'm not saying that the paper is without value, and I'm not saying it's not shocking that only a quarter of British ecology students would be able to name five trees to a specific common name. But I'm saying this paper does not really indicate that is the case.
You make some fair points about the paper - I agree that the introduction suffers from over elaboration and a somewhat elevated sense of what it might achieve (although the points about Pokemon being better recognised than 'real' organisms, and the Greta Thunberg effect as a counter-argument to their thesis are, I would contend, relevant).

Two points are worth noting though:
(1) these may be 'pre-ecology' students in the sense of never having attended an ecological field course, but as is typical in UK universities, it follows a year of University level biological education - these aren't callow freshmen.
(2) It's Oxford University - these are supposedly the brightest and best, typically including a disproportionate number of privately educated students from well-heeled backgrounds, so very unlikely to reflect an under stimulated, impoverished upbringing.
 
You make some fair points about the paper - I agree that the introduction suffers from over elaboration and a somewhat elevated sense of what it might achieve (although the points about Pokemon being better recognised than 'real' organisms, and the Greta Thunberg effect as a counter-argument to their thesis are, I would contend, relevant).

Two points are worth noting though:
(1) these may be 'pre-ecology' students in the sense of never having attended an ecological field course, but as is typical in UK universities, it follows a year of University level biological education - these aren't callow freshmen.
(2) It's Oxford University - these are supposedly the brightest and best, typically including a disproportionate number of privately educated students from well-heeled backgrounds, so very unlikely to reflect an under stimulated, impoverished upbringing.

In the past, exactly the type of people that used to have birds named after them.... 😀

On the main topic, the signatures have risen to in excess of 5,100 but the purpose of accumulating more seems opaque:-


All the best

Paul
 
You make some fair points about the paper - I agree that the introduction suffers from over elaboration and a somewhat elevated sense of what it might achieve (although the points about Pokemon being better recognised than 'real' organisms, and the Greta Thunberg effect as a counter-argument to their thesis are, I would contend, relevant).

Two points are worth noting though:
(1) these may be 'pre-ecology' students in the sense of never having attended an ecological field course, but as is typical in UK universities, it follows a year of University level biological education - these aren't callow freshmen.
(2) It's Oxford University - these are supposedly the brightest and best, typically including a disproportionate number of privately educated students from well-heeled backgrounds, so very unlikely to reflect an under stimulated, impoverished upbringing.
I once started reading a phd on Razorbills by an Oxford University student & there's a line in the introduction which is something like 'on the way to the island I saw my first Razorbills & discovered they're a black & white seabird the size of a duck'

I've helped out quite a few phd students with seabird work & I wouldn't have considered any of them to be birders & they've all done great work, some of them have probably never looked at a bird again after they'd finished.

I used to find it surprising but its pretty normal - a good friend of mine who is a birder did a masters on rust fungus, he'd probably never heard of rust fungus before he took the masters on
 
And sorry, I do find it shocking that only 24.2% of biology students could name 5 trees...and it feeds into a real world problem, with at least a proportion of those interviewed likely harbouring ambitions to enter the private sector environmental consultancy or public / voluntary sector environmental management fields, where there is an acknowledged skill shortage and dearth of taxonomic expertise.
In Germany, nature reserves are being monitored by students with the Obsidentify-App. As someone who (voluntarily) monitors these records, I do not notice much reflection on their sightings.
I think the people who send them out should lose their title or job for being such lazy sods.
 
Back on topic.

This is interesting, I wasn't aware of it, written by Jon Dunne below his signing of the petition 'against' the renaming.

'The AOS intended to go after the eponymous names for South American names too, over 100 which are eponyms. The South American checklist committee within weeks, voted to withdraw their association with the AOS so this probablly will not happen, unless a new committee of eponym opposed collaborators is formed'.

Jon Dunne's
comments in full


Also, the thoughts of JV Remsen and other, notable opponents of the move.


Paul Lehman

We all, of course, agree that we need more people interested in birds who then can speak for birds and conservation. Do folks really think that it is the names of birds that is keeping groups of people from becoming birders?? Really?? Making ornithology and birding more welcoming, diverse, and inclusionary means that birders should be welcoming to anyone showing potential interest--and aren't 95% of birders a pretty welcoming lot? If certain groups of people are under-represented, let's look at things like socio-economics. But that isn't as easy to change as are bird names!! And if you really want to get more diverse folks interested in birding, then go into classrooms and give talks or lead walks, or try directly mentoring one, two, or three individuals. But wait, that actually takes a lot more time and effort than changing a bird name!

It does rub me the wrong way to see folks happy to just change the names of ALL birds with eponyms, many of which were named by the folks who did all the work, effort, and sweat in studying the species, and thus had the honor of naming them how they would like and in some cases for people who were giants in the fields of ornithology and conservation. But we have plenty of folks who haven't contributed much to ornithology, who have little sense of ornithological and birding history, and for whom all birding history and knowledge started with the dawn of eBird, who are now happy to minimize or ignore this past work and a lot of birding history. Perhaps it's the "I know better" syndrome. As others have said, it does smack of dishonor and disrespect.

Steve N G Howell

As is so often the case with divisive issues—and yes, English bird names have become such an issue—it is too easy to fall into a knee-jerk reaction one way or the other. So, let’s take a moment and think about this rationally, something the name change proponents seem not to have done.

On 1 November 2023, the American Ornithological Society (The American Ornithological Society Will Change the English Names of Bird Species Named After People) stated “in an effort to address past wrongs and engage far more people in the enjoyment, protection, and study of birds, it [AOS] will change all English bird names currently named after people within its geographic jurisdiction.” AOS President Colleen Handel goes on to say ““Everyone who loves and cares about birds should be able to enjoy and study them freely—and birds need our help now more than ever.”

I sincerely hope that all of us who watch, and study birds want these avocations and professions to be equally open to anyone, anywhere; and we would also agree that birds need our help now more than ever. But the question here is: Are English bird names a real barrier to this goal? (In this regard, check out an eloquent blog post about genuine barriers: Some Thoughts on Bird Names and Barriers - Michael Hurben, PhD.)

Will all of the disruption caused to stability and communication—in everyday birding, not to mention conservation and science—by changing the names of more than 10% of North American birds actually help birds? Might the time, energy, and funds spent mass debating this issue not be better spent protecting and studying the actual birds themselves? Might the proposal to remove eponyms be simply a self-serving, virtue-signaling gimmick by people who wish to leave their own mark (some would say stain) on history and who don’t see, or choose not to see, the bigger picture?

I have to admit, it is difficult for me to believe that the AOS council really, truly believes that somebody would notice a bright yellow and green bird in their yard and say: “Ooh, that’s pretty, I wonder what it’s called?” They look in a field guide and: “Oh, it’s called a Townsend’s Warbler, neat, I see the dark cheek patch that’s distinctive.” Then: “I wonder who Townsend was, maybe I’ll look that up… Oh, he was a racist bigot [I’m not suggesting he was, by the way] so because of that I’m not going to look at any more birds, ever.”

Why is an apple called an apple or a dog called a dog? And how about Pink Ladies and Granny Smiths? Or King Charles Spaniels and Dobermans? If people wish to find offense, they can find it anywhere they choose. But offense can only be taken, not given—if you choose to take offense and manufacture (often vicarious) outrage, then that’s your own choice. Bird names are simply handles, license plates if you will, that serve the purposes of recognition and communication. And, as Tom Lehrer once said: “If a person can’t communicate, the very least they can do is to shut up.” We are all victims of history and there is no such thing as an innocent bystander, so perhaps we can move forward rather than become mired in things that happened long in the past, things we cannot change. As a T-shirt I saw recently said: “When you’re perfect, then judge me.”

It is also rather surprising to hear the AOS sentiment about bird names as a putative exclusionary barrier being voiced from an AOS council that appears to be predominantly of women. Why? Well, think Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black Scoter, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Redhead, Red Crossbill, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Northern Cardinal, and countless others—all named for the male of the species. Yet somehow female birders and ornithologists have overcome this ‘nomenclatural barrier.’

Indeed, at least among birdwatchers and field biologists in North America, females often represent the majority (excepting perhaps a relatively small subset of younger birders who are obsessive listers). Thus, is it not patronizing to suggest that eponyms are a barrier to people of color and other minorities given that females have overcome an equally daunting hurdle? (Not to mention that many scientific names honor past humans, yet the AOS implicitly considers that the minorities they wish to bring into the fold are so ignorant they won’t realize this—so I won’t mention it...)

Looking at this from another angle, if the AOS council wants to mix politics with science, then let’s apply their one-size-fits-all ‘logic’ to some similar situations. Cornell University was named after Ezra Cornell, a Republican businessman. Therefore, by extension, all Republican businessmen are supportive of birds, intellectual study, and the environment—people such as Donald Trump, for example, another Republican businessman... One doesn’t need to be a mental giant to appreciate that this might be a flawed premise. Yet everyone for whom a bird was named is now by default deemed ‘bad’ by AOS and must be extinguished from history?

Cornell (still named for a dead white male as far as I know) also has the Macaulay Library, named after a rich white American woman who gave them a lot of money. But to name a small bird ‘Godman’s Euphonia’ in honor of a rich Englishman who funded and co-created the greatest natural history treatise ever produced for the New World (the legendary Biologia Centrali-Americana, a 63-volume encyclopedia on the flora and fauna of Mexico and Central America)—oh no, I’m sorry, that can’t be allowed.

Let’s face it, it is human nature to honor persons who have made contributions to a field: think, for example, of the Peterson Field Guides (named in honor of a dead white male, and thus clearly in need of rebranding); or of the Kaufman Field Guides or the Sibley Guides. These books were all written by white males, and presumably, by AOS logic, this very fact has discouraged countless minority persons from buying these books and embracing an interest in birds and other aspects of nature. Really?

If birdwatchers, biologists, and others can’t see the sheer, abundant hypocrisy of the parties embracing the AOS name change directive, then there really is no hope for both humanity or for birds. As The Jam once sang: “The public wants what the public gets.” And who suffers in the end? Well, just the birds and the environment—which myopic humans also live in, by the way.

Meanwhile, actual real-world problems that genuinely do affect birds—primarily human overpopulation, the elephant in the room—are being conveniently ignored. And while birders argue over important stuff like English bird names, other inconsequential things continue—such as the Arctic Wildlife Refuge being opened to drilling or the oceans being used as a universal dumping ground, and last time I checked the global climate was not getting any cooler. Hmm, does the phrase ‘misplaced priorities’ ring a bell?

Lastly, and ignoring the fact that rewriting history (as attempted by such luminaries as Chairman Mao and Joseph Stalin) is generally a poor idea, and that trying to whitewash our human past erases the memory of mistakes from which we might learn, the sweeping, wholesale nature of this proclamation (or as some would say, pogrom—the systematic massacre of historical figures) should be a red flag to any thinking, reasonable person.

If one reads—and I mean reads carefully—the recent petition to AOS (Sign the Petition) then I fail to see how any sentient person can object to it. And yet, many supposedly rational biologists and birders I know in California seem too afraid to sign this petition in case they are viewed as racists or get ‘canceled.’ (This fear, or peer pressure, was also touched upon in Chris Gooddie’s comments from the UK; Chris Gooddie). To my mind this scenario mirrors all of the many basically decent, honest Germans who in the 1930s did nothing simply out of fear and thus went along for the ride—and that all worked out well, didn’t it? (Younger readers: Look up Second World War.) As the famous quote goes: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (attributed to Edmund Burke).

So, if you prefer to do nothing, don’t complain of the chaos that may follow, while bird populations continue to plummet even more quickly, helped merrily along by the AOS council’s sanctimonious and divisive diversion of time, energy, and funds away from true conservation measures. You too can be part of the AOS council’s virtue-signaling drive to promote biopaucity. Or you can take a moment, think rationally, and accept some responsibility for breathing oxygen.

Kevin Zimmer

 
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More walls of text that are composed of the same major ingredients:
  • I don't want it!
  • I don't understand why is it even a problem, because it's not a problem to me!
  • and the most absurd of all the argument "when people are discussing this, they can't do anything else!" - well maybe this is true for the opponents?
edit: also, an actual argument ad Hitlerum - are those allowed when the name is not mentioned?
 
More walls of text that are composed of the same major ingredients:
  • I don't want it!
  • I don't understand why is it even a problem, because it's not a problem to me!
  • and the most absurd of all the argument "when people are discussing this, they can't do anything else!" - well maybe this is true for the opponents?
edit: also, an actual argument ad Hitlerum - are those allowed when the name is not mentioned?
They are always allowed: "Godwin's Law" that states an argument is over when someone resorts to the use of Hitler's name is a device for people who have just lost an argument.

John
 
More walls of text that are composed of the same major ingredients:
  • I don't want it!
  • I don't understand why is it even a problem, because it's not a problem to me!
  • and the most absurd of all the argument "when people are discussing this, they can't do anything else!" - well maybe this is true for the opponents?
edit: also, an actual argument ad Hitlerum - are those allowed when the name is not mentioned?
'I', unfortunately for 'you', is not the only person in this debate and this thread is dedicated to the topic so 'suck it up'.

I'd say we are unlikely to see the changes in any of the South American books, whether they get accepted or not. Kaufman seems to be on his own amongst authors in rolling over like he has.
 
Back on topic.

This is interesting, I wasn't aware of it, written by Jon Dunne below his signing of the petition 'against' the renaming.

'The AOS intended to go after the eponymous names for South American names too, over 100 which are eponyms. The South American checklist committee within weeks, voted to withdraw their association with the AOS so this probablly will not happen, unless a new committee of eponym opposed collaborators is formed'.

Jon Dunne's
comments in full


Also, the thoughts of JV Remsen and other, notable opponents of the move.


Paul Lehman

We all, of course, agree that we need more people interested in birds who then can speak for birds and conservation. Do folks really think that it is the names of birds that is keeping groups of people from becoming birders?? Really?? Making ornithology and birding more welcoming, diverse, and inclusionary means that birders should be welcoming to anyone showing potential interest--and aren't 95% of birders a pretty welcoming lot? If certain groups of people are under-represented, let's look at things like socio-economics. But that isn't as easy to change as are bird names!! And if you really want to get more diverse folks interested in birding, then go into classrooms and give talks or lead walks, or try directly mentoring one, two, or three individuals. But wait, that actually takes a lot more time and effort than changing a bird name!

It does rub me the wrong way to see folks happy to just change the names of ALL birds with eponyms, many of which were named by the folks who did all the work, effort, and sweat in studying the species, and thus had the honor of naming them how they would like and in some cases for people who were giants in the fields of ornithology and conservation. But we have plenty of folks who haven't contributed much to ornithology, who have little sense of ornithological and birding history, and for whom all birding history and knowledge started with the dawn of eBird, who are now happy to minimize or ignore this past work and a lot of birding history. Perhaps it's the "I know better" syndrome. As others have said, it does smack of dishonor and disrespect.

Steve N G Howell

As is so often the case with divisive issues—and yes, English bird names have become such an issue—it is too easy to fall into a knee-jerk reaction one way or the other. So, let’s take a moment and think about this rationally, something the name change proponents seem not to have done.

On 1 November 2023, the American Ornithological Society (The American Ornithological Society Will Change the English Names of Bird Species Named After People) stated “in an effort to address past wrongs and engage far more people in the enjoyment, protection, and study of birds, it [AOS] will change all English bird names currently named after people within its geographic jurisdiction.” AOS President Colleen Handel goes on to say ““Everyone who loves and cares about birds should be able to enjoy and study them freely—and birds need our help now more than ever.”

I sincerely hope that all of us who watch, and study birds want these avocations and professions to be equally open to anyone, anywhere; and we would also agree that birds need our help now more than ever. But the question here is: Are English bird names a real barrier to this goal? (In this regard, check out an eloquent blog post about genuine barriers: Some Thoughts on Bird Names and Barriers - Michael Hurben, PhD.)

Will all of the disruption caused to stability and communication—in everyday birding, not to mention conservation and science—by changing the names of more than 10% of North American birds actually help birds? Might the time, energy, and funds spent mass debating this issue not be better spent protecting and studying the actual birds themselves? Might the proposal to remove eponyms be simply a self-serving, virtue-signaling gimmick by people who wish to leave their own mark (some would say stain) on history and who don’t see, or choose not to see, the bigger picture?

I have to admit, it is difficult for me to believe that the AOS council really, truly believes that somebody would notice a bright yellow and green bird in their yard and say: “Ooh, that’s pretty, I wonder what it’s called?” They look in a field guide and: “Oh, it’s called a Townsend’s Warbler, neat, I see the dark cheek patch that’s distinctive.” Then: “I wonder who Townsend was, maybe I’ll look that up… Oh, he was a racist bigot [I’m not suggesting he was, by the way] so because of that I’m not going to look at any more birds, ever.”

Why is an apple called an apple or a dog called a dog? And how about Pink Ladies and Granny Smiths? Or King Charles Spaniels and Dobermans? If people wish to find offense, they can find it anywhere they choose. But offense can only be taken, not given—if you choose to take offense and manufacture (often vicarious) outrage, then that’s your own choice. Bird names are simply handles, license plates if you will, that serve the purposes of recognition and communication. And, as Tom Lehrer once said: “If a person can’t communicate, the very least they can do is to shut up.” We are all victims of history and there is no such thing as an innocent bystander, so perhaps we can move forward rather than become mired in things that happened long in the past, things we cannot change. As a T-shirt I saw recently said: “When you’re perfect, then judge me.”

It is also rather surprising to hear the AOS sentiment about bird names as a putative exclusionary barrier being voiced from an AOS council that appears to be predominantly of women. Why? Well, think Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black Scoter, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Redhead, Red Crossbill, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Northern Cardinal, and countless others—all named for the male of the species. Yet somehow female birders and ornithologists have overcome this ‘nomenclatural barrier.’

Indeed, at least among birdwatchers and field biologists in North America, females often represent the majority (excepting perhaps a relatively small subset of younger birders who are obsessive listers). Thus, is it not patronizing to suggest that eponyms are a barrier to people of color and other minorities given that females have overcome an equally daunting hurdle? (Not to mention that many scientific names honor past humans, yet the AOS implicitly considers that the minorities they wish to bring into the fold are so ignorant they won’t realize this—so I won’t mention it...)

Looking at this from another angle, if the AOS council wants to mix politics with science, then let’s apply their one-size-fits-all ‘logic’ to some similar situations. Cornell University was named after Ezra Cornell, a Republican businessman. Therefore, by extension, all Republican businessmen are supportive of birds, intellectual study, and the environment—people such as Donald Trump, for example, another Republican businessman... One doesn’t need to be a mental giant to appreciate that this might be a flawed premise. Yet everyone for whom a bird was named is now by default deemed ‘bad’ by AOS and must be extinguished from history?

Cornell (still named for a dead white male as far as I know) also has the Macaulay Library, named after a rich white American woman who gave them a lot of money. But to name a small bird ‘Godman’s Euphonia’ in honor of a rich Englishman who funded and co-created the greatest natural history treatise ever produced for the New World (the legendary Biologia Centrali-Americana, a 63-volume encyclopedia on the flora and fauna of Mexico and Central America)—oh no, I’m sorry, that can’t be allowed.

Let’s face it, it is human nature to honor persons who have made contributions to a field: think, for example, of the Peterson Field Guides (named in honor of a dead white male, and thus clearly in need of rebranding); or of the Kaufman Field Guides or the Sibley Guides. These books were all written by white males, and presumably, by AOS logic, this very fact has discouraged countless minority persons from buying these books and embracing an interest in birds and other aspects of nature. Really?

If birdwatchers, biologists, and others can’t see the sheer, abundant hypocrisy of the parties embracing the AOS name change directive, then there really is no hope for both humanity or for birds. As The Jam once sang: “The public wants what the public gets.” And who suffers in the end? Well, just the birds and the environment—which myopic humans also live in, by the way.

Meanwhile, actual real-world problems that genuinely do affect birds—primarily human overpopulation, the elephant in the room—are being conveniently ignored. And while birders argue over important stuff like English bird names, other inconsequential things continue—such as the Arctic Wildlife Refuge being opened to drilling or the oceans being used as a universal dumping ground, and last time I checked the global climate was not getting any cooler. Hmm, does the phrase ‘misplaced priorities’ ring a bell?

Lastly, and ignoring the fact that rewriting history (as attempted by such luminaries as Chairman Mao and Joseph Stalin) is generally a poor idea, and that trying to whitewash our human past erases the memory of mistakes from which we might learn, the sweeping, wholesale nature of this proclamation (or as some would say, pogrom—the systematic massacre of historical figures) should be a red flag to any thinking, reasonable person.

If one reads—and I mean reads carefully—the recent petition to AOS (Sign the Petition) then I fail to see how any sentient person can object to it. And yet, many supposedly rational biologists and birders I know in California seem too afraid to sign this petition in case they are viewed as racists or get ‘canceled.’ (This fear, or peer pressure, was also touched upon in Chris Gooddie’s comments from the UK; Chris Gooddie). To my mind this scenario mirrors all of the many basically decent, honest Germans who in the 1930s did nothing simply out of fear and thus went along for the ride—and that all worked out well, didn’t it? (Younger readers: Look up Second World War.) As the famous quote goes: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (attributed to Edmund Burke).

So, if you prefer to do nothing, don’t complain of the chaos that may follow, while bird populations continue to plummet even more quickly, helped merrily along by the AOS council’s sanctimonious and divisive diversion of time, energy, and funds away from true conservation measures. You too can be part of the AOS council’s virtue-signaling drive to promote biopaucity. Or you can take a moment, think rationally, and accept some responsibility for breathing oxygen.

Kevin Zimmer

Some excellent points in these responses Andy - Van Remsen's is especially worth reading for its brevity and directness : 'an edict from the Global North to the Global South'
 

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