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RE: Fw: new name for Oldsquaw

        I apologize for resurrecting this topic, but I've been away and am
just catching up.

>On Thu, 19 Aug 1999, Kendrick wrote:

>In no other field of science is there
>anything as ridiculous as "official" common names.

        Other sciences may not have standardized, or felt the need to
standardize, English names, but that does not make the action ridiculous.
        First, it is important to understand the distinction between
"common" and English names. What the AOU, and other OU's are working on is
a standardized list of English names. They are in fact the "official"
names, carrying the same weight as the scientific name and largely chosen
under the same rules. The AOU has engaged in this since its inception and
the names are recognized and used by virtually every publisher of books,
magazines, or articles. It is useful to have such names because many
journals and magazines do not include scientific names in their articles
(state bird club publications are a frequent example). Without a
standardized set of names communication would suffer considerably. This is
even more true now that we have nearly instant communication and access to
material from every part of the world.
        "Common" names, such as Wild Canary for any goldfinch, are not
addressed by the AOU. Common names are varied, colorful, and solely
dictated by local use and cultural history. I like them, but I wouldn't use
one in place of the English name when writing in a bird journal except
humorously and only after making it clear to the reader what the bird is.

>In my OPINION this is a completely cultural debate and has absolutely
>nothing to do with science.

        It is not cultural and it is not new. It is an effort to
standardize a list that has been in existence for a long time. The purpose
is to improve communication.

However, there are more amateur ornithologists
>than professional and many great contributions to ornithology have been by
>dedicated amateurs.  But still, these amateurs seem very familiar with
>binomial nomeclature and are able to publish their studies. I suggest that
>birders(and ornithologists in general for Pete's sake)become more
>familiar with binomial nomenclature, especially with birds whose names are
>likely to change.  Then, you can say the common name (any you choose)
>after the scientific name and still be correct.

        The ornithologists I know are familiar with the scientific names of
birds. Some, but not a majority, of the bird watchers are also. On the more
than 50 birding listservs active in North America it is rare to see
scintific names used. The reason is that we have a useful, familiar set of
English names and few people take Latin these days. Everyone immediately
recognizes what bird is meant by Long-billed Dowitcher. What advantage is
there in insisting on the scientific name?

>I am sure I will catch a lot of flak for this but the First Amendment has
>always been my favorite.
        Mine too, but what does that have to do with anything? The AOU
doesn't have hit squads coming after people who use different names. They
aren't even vaguely intrerested in what names you use, unless you are
publishing in their journal. They are simply trying to provide a useful
tool for communication, if you choose to use it. If you don't, fine. If you
choose different names the only critics will be the readers.

>To not think critically and to accept all pseudoscience as science is to
>resign your job as a sentient being.  You can probably work anyway and
>make good money to boot.---Me.
        Trying to come up with a standardized list of English names is
hardly "pseudoscience." It is simply an exercise is information management.

        I admit that I am perpetually bemused by the reaction of some bird
watchers to the changes in names. It has been going on since there was an
AOU (and before, less officially). Look at one of the early editions of the
AOU Check-List and you will see hundreds of names that are no longer in
use. No one is seriously suggesting we go back to those names. The critics
of change usually want things to stay the way there are now.
        As an aside, learning the scientific names is not an easy solution.
They change more frequently than the English names. Look at what happened
recently to the scientific names of the chickadees and titmice.
        Although some names appeal to me more than others, and some changes
cause temporary dislocations and even some frustration, I look forward to
the issues of the Auk that contain reports from the Check-List committee.
Name changes are often reflections of increased knowledge (as in the chnage
in chickadees) and I think it is exciting to learn that we know something
we did not before. As for the proposed change of Oldsquaw to Long-tailed
Duck, well, the effort to standardize names world-wide will result in some
apparently arbitrary changes and it will take us a while to get used to
them, but so what? People adapt very nicely (it wasn't that long ago that
Sedge Wren was known as Short-billed Marsh Wren). All this brouhaha is so
much spinach. It doesn't have anything to do with actually watching birds.
Its clerical.


"To mistrust science and deny the validity of the scientific method is to
resign your job as a human. You'd better go look for work as a plant or
wild animal." -- P.J. O'Rourke

Rick Blom
4318 Cowan Place
Belcamp, Maryland 21017