Posted on Jun 18, 2020
The ASIH values diversity, and we have promised to take steps to support Black and Brown ichthyologists and herpetologists. A critical step is to recognize one of our own historic problems. Our journal’s namesake, E.D. Cope, held and published racist and misogynist views that our current membership finds abhorrent. The ASIH will begin addressing this matter. The Executive Committee of the ASIH is in favor of changing our journal’s name and is taking step to begin this process. We will bring this matter to our Board of Governors, to the appropriate ASIH committees, and to the ASIH membership for consideration.
A name change appears to be a simple matter of deciding to do it. But, carrying this out to completion takes work, money, and time. The money comes from the membership and limits spending on other systems (e.g., travel awards) that our membership is accustomed to. And the time means that if a renaming is an action the ASIH takes, a new name on our journal must take minimally six months and could take eighteen months to appear. This means that buy-in and patience from the membership is a requirement if the ASIH wants to see this done. The Executive Committee of the ASIH believes that the process is worth undertaking. Our goal is not in seeking the demonization of Cope. Rather we wish to honestly address one of our own blemishes. We have long ignored this particular blemish; much of our membership is not even aware of Cope’s racist perspectives.
History can be taken out of context. Indeed, Cope’s views were held by many (perhaps most) of his contemporary 19th Century scientists. However, his views on race, society, and eugenics were very prominent. Because he has been a titan of both ichthyology and herpetology (and perhaps because few modern members know his views), for a century we have looked past the bad to focus on his accomplishments. But his views on race and society were very public and, unfortunately, published as purportedly scientific articles. In a few instances, these views were part of policies agreed to by the ASIH.
Many ASIH members may not know that we have been having these conversations for years, even decades. From our perspective, it is time to think hard about the messages behind whom we honor and hurt with our statues and monuments, and with our building and journal namesakes. We have an opportunity.