Out of the dark recesses of history, Adolf Hitler has emerged to throw the scientific world into a tizzy. At stake is an insect who is the Nazi dictator’s namesake. Here is the full story.
They Call the Shots
Throughout scientific discovery, researchers and trailblazers have named their innovations after people they admire.
That means a physicist’s new equation usually gets his dad’s name, or a botanist names a plant after her teacher.
Leadership Is Tricky
But sometimes, nationalistic pride gets the better of the scientists, and they latch onto a political leader.
And when things went sideways at the top, some questionable names were left behind.
Hitler the Beetle
A case in point is the Anophthalmus hitleri (A. hitleri), a beetle from Slovenia named by a Hitler admirer back in the 1930s.
Crystal Ball Was Cloudy
History shows that the world didn’t quite grasp what Hitler was all about as the Great Depression raged on.
So maybe the naming choice wasn’t such a big deal at that time.
He Who Shall Not Be Spoken Of
But of course, the world had figured out by the end of World War II that “Hitler” would forever be a nonstarter as a name for anything at all.
Science Changes for No Beetle
Even so, once a species or equation or theory is named, science is slow to change it. Sometimes, science downright refuses to change it.
Names on the Chopping Block
That has been the case for A. hitleri and other questionable species names since at least January 2023.
Standing Up for Your Nomenclature
That month, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) took a stand in a paper they published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society (ZJLS).
Ethics Aren’t Welcome Here
Facing pressure by some groups to rebrand the Hitler bug, among others, the ICZN said they wouldn’t be renaming any species based on ethical considerations.
It’s Just Too Confusing
Their main argument is that changing species names is confusing for the scientific community and can cause all sorts of downstream issues.
Massive Confusion Reigns
“If these names are not stable, you can create a massive confusion,” the ICZN said.
Worth the Trouble
But not everyone agrees with that ruling. In fact, many think nixing Hitler’s name for good is worth a bit of upheaval.
Untold Human Misery
Estrela Figueiredo, a botanist from Nelson Mandela University, summed up many scientists’ views on the subject.
The renaming is about “eliminating the commemoration of people who caused untold human misery,” she wrote in an editorial piece.
Time for Change
Figueiredo goes on to say that the rest of society has adapted and changed, and it’s about time the scientific community does the same.
Too Important to Change?
But ICZN, the global governing body that has the final say over species names, isn’t budging so far.
They seem to want no part in causing the sort of mass confusion that comes from renaming an obscure beetle.
A Viral Beetle
After all, that beetle’s name must be uttered at least a couple dozen times a millennia, right?
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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / fizkes. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.