In a recent scientific peer review decision, scientists argue that a caecilian discovered in Panama should not be named after Donald Trump.
The scientists who discovered the caecilian approved of the proposed name, but during peer review the second reviewer of the paper to name the caecilian has expressed severe reservations about the name, donaldtrumpi.
Aidan Bell, the co-founder of EnviroBuild, acknowledged that there is no connection between the President and the amphibian. They did not expect this to be a problem, however, because there have been several examples of scientists naming newly discovered species after U.S. presidents. “There are many [species] named after his predecessors often with no obvious link.”
Naming rights for the newly found amphibian were auctioned to raise money for environmental charity Rainforest Trust. Sustainable construction firm EnviroBuild won the auction, and the company’s founders decided that Donald Trump might be an appropriate name.
They noted several features that the amphibian had in common with Trump. It buries its head in the sand, for example, much in the same way that Trump ignores the scientific evidence on climate change. The amphibian is nearly completely blind, seeing the world in black and white, which is similar to Trump’s worldview that lacks nuance and appreciation for complexity. It is also particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change, which make the blind amphibian a fitting symbol of the climate emergency.
They hoped that naming the caecilian after Trump would raise awareness of his damaging environmental policies and inaction on the climate crisis. A company spokesperson for EnviroBuild explained their motivation, saying “EnviroBuild is not an overtly political organisation, but we do feel very strongly that everyone should do everything they can to leave the world in a better way than they found it.”
Bell noted that Trump’s environmental policies give the name an irony that is perhaps more cruel than humorous, undermining the original intention behind the choice of name. He noted that Trump has rolled back more than 70 environmental rules and regulations. Given this record on environmental policy, Bell admitted that it might be considered “cruel to name the caecilian after the man single-handedly doing the most to make it extinct.”
Raising awareness about the climate crisis remains a key focus for the company, according to James Brueton, co-founder of EnviroBuild. “When we started EnviroBuild, sustainability was at the forefront of everything we did and that was no different when we had the opportunity to name this caecilian.” They had hoped naming the amphibian after Trump would inspire the President to adopt more favourable environmental policies and encourage him to reduce carbon emissions. Failing that, they imagined that the eye-catching name would at least draw public attention to the climate emergency.
Although the reviewers’ decision rejected their original plans for the name, an EnviroBuild spokesperson has stated that they understand and support the scientific community and will accept their decision. They have been in consultation with partners at the Rainforest Trust about changing the name and finding an alternative inspiration.
Now that the scientific community has rejected Donald Trump as a namesake for the recently discovered species, what will it be called instead? James Brueton shared the company’s plans for the caecilian’s name going forward, in light of the reviewers’ suggestion. “We…are now taking this chance to turn the spotlights on an environmental activist yet to be confirmed.” Rather than highlighting a vocal opponent of environmental activism and a disbeliever in climate science, they want to use their naming rights to honour an activist. This move might be less amusing, but it certainly gives credit where it’s due.
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