Tuesday, November 19, 2013

ICZN funded...for now.

Earlier this year, we received word that the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature was broke. As you might imagine, I was and still am concerned.

But there is a temporary reprieve. The National University of Singapore will fund the ICZN secretariat for the next three years. In other words, they will pay for the ~$80,000 in costs it takes to run the basic "government" body of the commission. This includes Zoobank, the zoological name registry, which takes the majority of those funds to upkeep.

But this is all temporary. When the funding runs out in three years, will another organization step forward to help out? The ICZN isn't the Olympics here, nations aren't lining up to back the Commission. About the only thing any individual institution gets out of funding the ICZN is the associated prestige, which doesn't go far in this modernist world where value equals direct monetary gain or less cost.

So now there will be the inevitable talk about "business models", which works fine for a natural history museum but horribly for a multinational consortium. There's no ICZN giftshop where we can buy nomenclature themed t-shirts saying things like "Deus creavit, Linnaeus disposuit" and "Save the ICZN!" with a picture of Hugh Strickland. (Though, that's not a bad idea. Hipsters might be good for something after all. Hmm....)

Usually in these situations you have member states or institutions contributing to the total cost, e.g. UNESCO. Or, like the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), there are membership fees. Or, like the International Botanical Congress (IBC), there is a meeting that coincides with the arbitration.

But the Commission is a small body of 26 people, and their respective institutions do not provide funding. Nor are there membership fees, or a large meeting associated with arbitration.

One way to fund it may be to enlarge the membership, make it the entirety of the International Congress of Zoology, and increase the membership fees to coincide with voting rights. Then amending the Code is something everyone at the ICZ can take part in, just as it is at the IBC. But the Code itself is written to be arbitrated by a limited commission, not a large governing body, so the change in itself would require an amendment. With 15,000 new names a year, a number which grows yearly, maybe it's time for a change. There were 36 cases (or at least that many decisions) this year. Can the Commission keep up?

In any case, this problem isn't going away. And where is IUBS in all this? They're the mandating body, they're the organization from which new commissioners are chosen. Three years will speed past. Now is the time to find a solution.

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