University of Hawaii-Hilo Hawaiian Professor Larry Kimura has given a Hawaiian name — Powehi — to the black hole depicted in an image produced in a landmark experiment. “Powehi” means “the adorned fathomless dark creation” or “embellished dark source of unending creation” and comes from the Kumulipo, an 18th-century Hawaiian creation chant. “Po” is a profound dark source of unending creation, while “wehi,” honored with embellishments, is one of the chant’s descriptions of po, the newspaper reported. “To have the privilege of giving a Hawaiian name to the very first scientific confirmation of a black hole is very meaningful to me and my Hawaiian lineage that comes from po,” Kimura said in a news release. A Hawaiian name was justified because the project included two Hawaii telescopes, astronomers said. “As soon as he said it, I nearly fell off my chair,” said Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea.
Posts tagged names
“The incapacity to name is a good symptom of disturbance.”
–Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Sonic hedgehog is one of three proteins in the mammalian signaling pathway family called hedgehog, the others being desert hedgehog (DHH) and Indian hedgehog (IHH). SHH is the best studied ligand of the hedgehog signaling pathway. It plays a key role in regulating vertebrate organogenesis, such as in the growth of digits on limbs and organization of the brain. Sonic hedgehog is the best established example of a morphogen as defined by Lewis Wolpert’s French flag model—a molecule that diffuses to form a concentration gradient and has different effects on the cells of the developing embryo depending on its concentration.
This tension between freedom and stability was long ago formalized in two sets of official and binding rules: the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), which deals with animals, and the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN). Periodically updated by committees of working taxonomists, these documents set out precise, legalistic frameworks for how to apply names both to species and to higher taxa. (The animal and plant codes operate independently, which means that an animal can share a scientific name with a plant, but not with another animal, and vice versa.) While this freedom opens up a valuable space for amateur contributions, it also creates a massive loophole for unscrupulous, incompetent, or fringe characters to wreak havoc. That’s because the Principle of Priority binds all taxonomists into a complicated network of interdependence; just because a species description is wrong, poorly conceived, or otherwise inadequate, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a recognized part of taxonomic history. Whereas in physics, say, “unified theories” scrawled on napkins and mailed in unmarked envelopes end up in trashcans, biologists, regardless of their own opinions, are bound to reckon with the legacy of anyone publishing a new name. Taxonomists are more than welcome to deal with (or “revise”) these incorrect names in print, but they can’t really ignore them.