How to use scientific names

Dave Hone has a short explainer with persnicketyness about the proper use of taxonomic names for species: “What’s in a name? Why scientific names are important”.

Just to soapbox a little, it's a simple enough system really, though one that far too few science writers seem to grasp and I do find it odd that other scientific conventions are used correctly, but that the names for species (or for that matter genes) are overlooked. It's a pretty basic part of biology and one that I did in school aged about 10, so I find it hard to understand why is it so rarely used correctly. I remember writing to one major UK daily after a write up of a piece of my research to moan about its misuse and was told that, against all reason, it was apparently part of their standard format to italicise species names, but not generic ones. So it's not that they couldn't typeset italics or didn't know the correct format, but had actively chosen to use an incorrect one. At the risk of making too much of something too little, it is representative of at least some reporting of science that something can be written that is knowingly incorrect.

I find this is such a difficult concept for some students, but being transparent about expectations and consistent in grading helps a lot. My pet peeve is people who take Homo sapiens as a plural, so that only one person must be a “Homo sapien”. ERRRRRGH!