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Naming Names (and Flies)

M.M. Green is not annoyed not by flies, but he writes about his annoyance at people who speak imprecisely about flies.

It Really Is Not a Fruit Fly,” M.M. Green, Genetics, vol. 162, 2002, pp. 1–3. (Thanks to Judy Lai for bringing this to our attention.) Green, at  University of California, Davis, explains [AIR 15:5]:

In a recent essay titled “Talking about the Genome,” the distinguished historian of recent science, Horace Freeland Judson, made an incisive and cogent plea for scientific language precision. He concludes, “…for ourselves and for the general public, what we require is to get more fully and precisely into the proper language of genetics.” …Inadvertently, Professor Judson fails to follow his own advice, no doubt because he is a historian, not a biologist. Pictured in his essay is an adult male fly whose description reads: “The fruit fly: Drosophila mutants are the cornerstone of the language used in genetics.” Because more than one thousand species of the genus Drosophila have already been identified, taxonomic precision dictates that this fly be precisely designated a Drosophila melanogaster male. I argue further that there is great ecological variation among the numerous Drosophila species, vitiating the common name of fruit fly attached to D. melanogaster or any other Drosophila species….

For the layperson, it is fine to let journalists and like professionals writing in the popular press call D. melanogaster a fruit fly. For the professional biologist, however, no inclusive common name for the myriad of Drosophila species distributed over diverse habitats suffices: not fruit fly, not vinegar fly, not pomace fly.

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