Scientists Discuss Changing Dinosaur Names

It’s been a whopping 200 years since the first dinosaur, Megalosaurus, was named by William Buckland. Can you believe it? Two centuries of exploring these ancient giants, and we’ve cataloged hundreds of species since then.

But now there’s a problem with their names, so “scientists” want to change them.

Megalosaurus, meaning “big lizard,” was a groundbreaking discovery back in 1824 in Stonesfield, UK. It opened our eyes to the existence of gigantic extinct reptiles. Fast forward to today, and we’ve got around 1,500 dinosaur species from the Mesozoic Era, each with its own unique name. However, Emma Dunne and her team have raised some concerns about how these names are chosen. They’ve identified 89 names that could be considered problematic due to various reasons, including racism, sexism, and colonial contexts.

Some of the names the team identified derive from the colonial names for lands where species have been discovered. Indigenous-language names of places or researchers are often not used or are mistranslated, the authors say.

For example, many of the dinosaurs discovered during a series of expeditions between 1908 and 1920 by German explorers in Tendaguru in Tanzania, which was then part of German East Africa, were named after German people rather than local expedition members, and the samples remain in Germany.

“The problem in terms of numbers is really insignificant. But it is significant in terms of importance,” says Evangelos Vlachos, a co-author of Dunne’s paper and a palaeontologist said.

Another example the team made was about many of the dinosaurs discovered in Tanzania. During the early 20th century, some were named after German explorers, ignoring the contributions of local people. The paper claims the names reflects a broader issue of how we recognize contributions and origins in scientific discoveries. The current naming system, overseen by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), offers freedom but also presents challenges in ensuring names are unique, announced in a publication, and linked to a specimen.

Note that this paper condemns the names of dinosaurs while stating the problem is “insignificant” only to hint the scientific authority behind the names is complicit.

The ICZN is against renaming species for reasons citing formal classification issues to make sure there’s no confusion over what dinosaurs are being discussed. 

Dunne’s team merely wrote a paper that has not been published for peer review.


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