The Entomology Games: Righting a Wrong Name

The governing board of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA) announced July 6 that it has changed the name of the student trivia contest from "Linnaean Games" to  "Entomology Games."

And rightfully so. It's a stand against racism and a step toward a more diverse and inclusive organization.

And frankly, it's a more appropriate name.

ESA, founded in 1889, launched the games in 1982, naming them for Swedish scientist-physician Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the father of taxonomy.  He was a botanist and zoologist as well as a physician. 

ESA describes The Games as a "fast-paced, college-bowl style contest in which students from various colleges and universities test their knowledge by answering questions on insect science. Students compete first at the regional branch level, and then the winning teams compete each year at the national level at ESA's Annual Meeting." 

A petition on Research Gate drew some 1500 approvals for the name change. However, many members began seeking a name change several years ago.

Here's why: Linnaeus' classifications of the human race. 

Linnaeus made "offensive, race-based classifications of humans that helped form a basis for racism in science," according to a Request for Change on Research Gate. "The recent police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many other Black Americans have put a national spotlight on racial injustice in our country. White supremacy and racism have existed in academic and scientific institutions since their advent, but these events have catalyzed heightened reflection and action around justice within academia." 

Other points involving the name switch from Linnaean Games to Entomology Games:

  • Linnaeus was not an entomologist 
  • The trivia questions deal mostly with insect science and entomologists, not taxonomy.
  • Most people outside the world of entomology probably cannot relate to the meaning of the Linnaean Games, but they can to "Entomology Games"

As ESA president Alvin Simmons, a research entomologist at USDA-ARS, U.S. Vegetable Laboratory, Charleston, S.C., said in the ESA news release: “National events this year have brought issues of diversity and inclusion within our discipline and our Society to the forefront. Ultimately, the board believed that the loss of any student competitors who felt unwelcome because of the name of the Games went against ESA's commitment to diversity, inclusion, and students as the future of entomology. A name can be replaced, but each entomologist brings a unique and valuable contribution to our Society that is irreplaceable. The Entomology Games will continue ESA's traditions of fun, competition, and school pride.”

ESA published a statement on Why Black Lives Matter to Entomology on June 1, which said in part: "Historically, people of color have been less likely to choose careers in the life sciences, and even today black entomologists make up 2.7 percent of the ESA membership, up from 2 percent in 2012. Every time a person is kept from contributing to our understanding of entomology due to systemic inequities, our entire discipline is impoverished."

Meanwhile, due to the coronavirus pandemic, ESA will conduct its 2020 ESA meeting in a virtual format. From its website: "We are excited to embrace the virtual format and build an exceptional meeting that will truly embody the spirit of Entomology for All—a meeting where all insect scientists can participate and share their work, regardless of location, specialty area, or ability to travel.  Entomology 2020 will feature multiple live-streams running simultaneously November 16-19. On-demand content will be available from November 11-25."

University of California teams have done well in the The Games. A UC Davis team won the national championship in 2015, and a UC Berkeley-UC Davis team won two national championships, one in 2016 and one in 2018.  The 2016 Games were deemed international as it occurred during a joint meeting of ESA and the International Congress of Entomology (ICE) in Orlando, Fla. (Walter Leal, UC Davis distinguished professor and USDA-ARS research entomologist Alvin Simmons co-chaired the ICE meeting.)

The 2019 UC team made it to the finals but didn't place. It was captained by Ralph Washington Jr., a UC Berkeley public policy graduate student who received his bachelor's degree in entomology at UC Davis. He was joined by three UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology doctoral students:  Brendon Boudinot, Zachary Griebenow and Jill Oberski, all of the Phil Ward lab,  and alternates Miles Dakin of the Christian Nansen lab and Hanna Kahl of the Jay Rosenheim lab.

Washington captained all four recent teams, and Boudinot helped anchor all of them.

Statistics include:

  • 2018: UC won the national championship (this links to a UC Davis news story) in Vancouver, B.C., defeating Texas A&M Graduates, with Washington captaining the team and joined by UC Davis graduate students Boudinot, Oberski and Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab, and Emily Bick of the Christian Nansen lab. (No video of the championship round)
  • 2017: The UC team did not compete. (Texas A&M won the national championship; see championship round on YouTube)
  • 2016: UC won the national and international championships at the joint meeting of ESA and ICE in Orlanda, Fla., defeating the University of Georgia. (See championship round on YouTube)
  • 2015: UC won the national championship at the games held in Minneapolis, Minn., defeating the University of Florida. (See championship round on YouTube)