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Freshly hatched caterpillars of gypsy moths on the bark of a red oak. Photo: Sebastian Willnow/picture alliance via Getty Images

Bugs, birds, fish and plants with names linked to white supremacists may be renamed, as science confronts its own ties to systemic racism.

Why it matters: The national reckoning was inevitably going to pass this way. The sciences have long underrepresented and erected barriers of entry to people of color and there’s a concerted effort for a reset under way in academia, research and hiring.

Driving the news: The Entomological Society of America announced this month insects known as Aphaenogaster araneoides and Lymantria dispar will no longer be called "gypsy ants" and "gypsy moths." Gypsy is a racial slur for Romani people.

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other state agencies recently halted the use of "Asian carp" to describe some invasive species of fish in the wake of rising anti-Asian violence, The Associated Press reports.
  • Bird Names for Birds has launched a campaign to change bird names, including the Hammond’s Flycatcher. That bird was named after former U.S. Surgeon General William Alexander Hammond, who once collected the brains of killed Indigenous people.

The intrigue: The American Ornithological Society announced in May its commitment to changing “exclusionary or harmful bird names.”

  • The American Ornithological Society’s North American Classification Committee said last year the McCown’s Longspur would change to the Thick-billed Longspur following complaints about Confederate general John Porter McCown, an amateur ornithologist whose name is on the bird.
  • Conservation activists say the Erythrina caffra, commonly known as the "African Coral Tree," should see a name change since it has roots in a slur used for South Africa's Black communities.
  • California's Pinus sabiniana, or the “Digger Pine,” which is a pejorative term used to reference the Paiute and other Indigenous groups, also is seeing calls for renaming.

The National Audubon Society, the nation’s well-known bird conservation group, is debating whether to change its name. The group is named after John James Audubon, a bird enthusiast who also enslaved Black people.

Flashback: The reexamination comes as scientific institutions and biological diversity organizations publicly pledged their commitment to inclusion in the wake of George Floyd's death.

  • Institutions and organizations also are confronting a past where science was largely defined and practiced by white men, who sometimes gave species problematic names with racial slurs.
  • Science organizations say they want to make fields more welcoming for people of color. Doctoral degrees in science and engineering are still overwhelmingly conferred on white students, according to an analysis from the National Science Foundation.
  • U.S. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to create a board to help rename more than 1,000 towns, lakes, streams, creeks and mountain peaks across the U.S. that are still named with racist slurs.

What they're saying: "We know that changing bird names is not going to fix racism as much as I wish it would. But we're working on removing this one brick, that is part of this huge thing we need to deal with," Jordan Rutter, a co-founder of Bird Names for Birds, told Axios.

  • "You have these names that really just represent white colonialism and the perspectives that they had when they decided these are the names," said Gabriel Foley, a group co-founder.
  • Rutter and Foley said the movement to change names also is about the process where people can engage in social justice and science.

The other side: Bird names are one of the treasures of the English language and not all bird names are derived from old white men, wrote Helen Andrews, a senior editor at The American Conservative.

  • "Some are just very, very old. Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were talking about swans, sparrows, and ravens when William the Conqueror was a boy," Andrews wrote.
  • "To preserve the richness of American bird names for future generations, today’s politically correct literalists deserve (a) brushoff."

Go deeper

Updated Jul 28, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on racial inequality

Today at 12:30pm ET, Axios co-founder and CEO Mike Allen and Axios Today host Niala Boodhoo discussed how leaders in their respective fields are working to achieve racial equity, how institutions are reckoning with their histories and what is being done to create lasting change, featuring Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), activist and scholar Rosa Clemente and Michelle Duster, author of Ida B. The Queen.

Rep. James E. Clyburn addressed the ongoing fight against systemic racism in America and the importance of a bipartisan path forward. 

  • On the debate over critical race theory in education: “This is a red herring. This is what people are trying to use in order to spread strife...I just think that that's where we are missing the mark, by not explaining to the American people that this is the truth.” 
  • On how the corporate world can advance equity: “I believe that the corporate world really drives so much of the economic activity that takes place in this country. And [it] ought to really play a role there and make sure that we do not allow the limiting of democracy...That's why you see a lot of corporate people in Georgia now stepping forward, saying we are not going to allow these [voter] laws that you pass to define what Georgia is all about.”

Michelle Duster spoke about her great-grandmother Ida B. Wells, discussing her legacy in journalism and speaking out against systemic racism.

  • On journalism as a tool to expose injustice: "If you decided to push the boundaries and try to fight for first class citizenship, there was pushback and ultimately violence. She exposed this reality that lynching was being used as a form of domestic terrorism."
  • On how using the truth sparks change: “You have to tell the truth in order to make change. We have to admit that there's a problem before we can solve it. She was using journalism as a way to shed light on the truth, she was using the truth as a weapon, really against these false narratives that were being used to justify violence that was being inflicted on the Black community. She truly believed that the truth would lead to justice.”

Rosa Clemente dove into the impact of racism in America and what can be done to advance progress on this front.

  • On the impact of the pandemic and the effect of racism on health outcomes: “We as Black and brown people have died disproportionate to the number of people [in the US.] I think it's important that people look at this pandemic because it has shown and shine a light on all the systemic injustices that are happening.”
  • On changing the narrative around allyship: “I don't need an ally. I need you to be an accomplice for justice. I need you to dedicate your life to ending white supremacy and white privilege. Not when it's trendy, not when it's easy, but at the times that it is hardest for a white person to do that. That is the time they should be doing that work.” 

Axios CEO & Co-founder Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie G. Bunch III and global head of environmental, social and governance at Bank of America Andrew Plepler where they discussed Bank of America’s partnership with the Smithsonian.  

  • Lonnie G. Bunch III on the Smithsonian's role in addressing systemic racism: “We were devastated by the dual pandemics, the pandemic of racism and the unfairness in terms of health access...We thought it would be important for us to use our resources to create an opportunity for the American public to find a true understanding of its past and to find hope. So that's what we wanted to do, was to provide opportunities where people use a trusted brand of the Smithsonian to talk about issues, better understand issues of race, and to ultimately help us find that shared future.”
  • Andrew Plepler on Bank of America’s responsibility as a financial institution: “We view it as imperative to our role in society to address some of the great challenges that we face as a country, and we think that a financial institution absolutely can be a partner in examining those challenges and in deploying resources to address those challenges. And there are no two greater challenges today than climate and racial equality.”

Thank you Bank of America for sponsoring this event.

Federal Reserve scales back expectations for economic recovery as Delta variant weighs

Fed chair Jerome Powell during a congressional hearing last year. (Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Fed downgraded near-term expectations for the economy and the labor market, alongside hotter-than-expected inflation, in new estimates out on Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's the first time those closely-watched estimates reflect impact from the delta variant that's already rattled the labor market. Still, Fed chairman Jerome Powell said enough progress has been made to begin to pull back emergency-era measures that have supported the economy.

Bipartisan police reform negotiations end without deal

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) with Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the Capitol in May 2021. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Bipartisan talks on reforming police tactics and accountability, prompted by George Floyd's murder in May 2020, have ended without a compromise, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a key negotiator, said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Lawmakers, led by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Booker, had been working toward a bipartisan deal for months but things fell apart due to disagreements on qualified immunity and other issues.