The annual evolution meeting raises some questions

May 12, 2022 • 1:45 pm

The annual “Evolution Meeting” is taking place next month in Cleveland, and each year it gets woker: there is less emphasis on science and more on “harm”, “safety” and the oppression narrative. This year the meeting is a tripartite gathering of members from three evolution-related societies: the American Society of Naturalists, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the Society of Systematic Biologists. You can see the website here, and try perusing it a bit. What you won’t see is the names of prizes that have been dropped because the famous scientists once being honored were found to be flawed.

Call me an old grouch, but in my view the organizers are consciously turning societies devoted to the promotion of science into organizations devoted to the promotion of social change. Yes, organizations should not discriminate against any class of people so long as they’re qualified to give talks or attend meetings, but it’s another thing entirely for a meeting to promote equity on the grounds that science is structurally racist. In fact, I think scientific societies should remain politically neutral while obeying any anti-discrimination laws. Effecting social change should be the purview of individual members of societies, as different members have different views (I know a lot of people who object to the fulminating wokeness of evolution societies.)

Whlle perusing the long list of diversity initiatives (14 of them), guaranteed to bring people together by separating them, I found this one:

Latines? What happened to “Latinx”, itself created to avoid gendering an ethnic group as well as not to offend LGBTQ Latinxes? Recall that “Latinx” was itself a term imposed on several (and diverse) ethnic groups by largely woke white people trying to demonstrate their compassion and virtue.  Most members of the Latina(o) community spurn the term:

Despite its increasingly frequent use, a Gallup poll claims only 5% of Hispanic Americans prefer the term “Latinx.” In contrast, 37% preferred the usage of “Latino,” and 57% preferred “Hispanic.”

Aren’t we supposed to call a group what they want to be called? So why not “Hispanic”? And where the deuce did “Latine” come from? The Tulane Hullabaloo explains:

These numbers beg the question, why can Hispanic not be used when referring to this specific ethnic subgroup?

Essentially, the two terms are not exactly synonyms. “Hispanic” typically refers to someone from a Spanish-speaking region, while “Latino” typically refers to people of Latin American descent. A Portuguese-speaking Brazilian man would not be Hispanic, but he would be Latino. A woman from Spain would be Hispanic, but not Latina. Despite the two terms describing large and often overlapping groups, the term “Latino” includes people that “Hispanic” does not — similar to how “African American” refers to fewer people than “Black person” does.

Got that? Now you can ignore it, because everybody knows that the regular use of “Hispanic” lumps these two groups together.

But what is this “Latine”? Get ready—it’s even woker than “Latinx”, and is again a term promoted by woke non-Hispanics to make up for the fact that they realized that the term “Latinx” could cause harm. 

The criticism “Latinx” faces is not for it being more inclusive, even harsh critics of the term acknowledge that it stems from good intent. Instead, some believe it is the anglicisation of a term that does not belong to English speakers — an effort to impose their ideals onto a language with entirely different rules.

While it was created with good intentions, “Latinx” is not made for Spanish speakers. Some people just see “Latinx” as a “White thing.” The kind of term that gets used in academics, but not at taqueriasIf that is the chief issue, then input from Spanish speakers, particularly under the Latino umbrella, would be the key to making a term that both satisfies Spanish speakers and includes marginalized groups. Fortunately, such a term exists: “Latine.”

You don’t hear “Latine” at taquerias, either! But I digress:

“Latine” offers a more organic alternative to “Latinx.” On the surface, Latine and Latinx may strike readers as synonyms. Both terms are designed to be more inclusive than their gendered parents, specifically in reference to nonbinary people, and both terms are relatively new. So what justifies the use of the younger, less popular “Latine?”

Latine fills the void in a way Latinx never could, mostly because it was designed to work with the Spanish language. It is not an insertion; it is an evolution. A natural progression from gendered terms to neutral ones. As such, Latine can be pronounced and conjugated in Spanish, while “Latinx” cannot.

Any bets whether Hispanic Americans are going to proudly proclaim themselves as “Latines”?

I also found the event below, apparently based on the title of a book by Joan Roughgarden that I reviewed (critically) in the Times Literary Supplement of 2004 (email me for a copy of the review as it’s no longer online). Roughgarden, who had recently become a trans woman, made the case in her book that the diversity of sexuality in nature justifies human sexuality other than the “cis” form, and at any rate should erase our opprobrium towards members of the LGBTQ+ community. But this is an example of the “naturalistic fallacy”: we needn’t—and shouldn’t—see how animals express sexuality to inform our own morality towards those with different sexual expression. Here’s a screenshot of one paragraph from my review:

The event below, bearing the title of Roughgarden’s book, looks to me like the same kind of stuff: a romp through the diverse sexuality of animal species with the express aim of “supporting and retaining our LGBTQ+ students and colleagues.”  But the diversity of sexuality in nature is completely irrelevant to that aim: people of different sexual preferences, genders, and so on, should be treated as moral equals on the simple grounds that they are fellow humans and such equality is a boon to society.  I find it bizarre that this event (which costs $5 extra) is being given, assuming its aim is what they say it  is:

27 thoughts on “The annual evolution meeting raises some questions

  1. I don’t doubt you’re right about the meeting and the societies getting woker, but it seems to me that a mixer is pretty much exactly where this sort of thinking should be relegated. By all means, let every and any minority – be it based on gender, race, age, collegial affiliation, etc. etc. have a mixer.

    And assuming the mixer organizers themselves picked the title, there is no reason here for the society or meeting organizers to gainsay it. Their job is only to treat it like any other mixer and provide the same advertising opportunities for it.

    You’re probably right about the name being yet another ham-handed attempt by white people to “correct” a labeling problem nobody else sees, but that’s the mixer organizer’s problem, not the meetings. And the solution to that social faux pas is for people who don’t like the term to not go to the mixer. Or go and complain. Or best yet, go, get the free driink, meet other people who don’t like the name, then skedaddle with them off to a bar. :).

    1. Okay, where’s the Jewish and Muslim “mixers” then? What about the neurodivergent mixer? The “senior” mixer? Do you want me to go on with the mixers of minorities that don’t appear?

      1. Indeed, boss. I’m so horribly sick and tired of EVERY-THING in our society being cast through the lens of racial or gender groupings. Are we that small? That dull? I don’t think other (non-anglosphere) countries indulge this kind of madness. (I know Japan doesn’t. I like it there even though I’M the minority.).

        One place that IS obsessed with that kind of identity politics is Lebanon: their entire, sad, violent, dysfunctional society is based around religious ID. I’ve spent a lot of time there also, some of it during a war. Is THAT our future in the US, ultimately? (Lebanese Jew Gad Saad believes so).

        I know where I’d rather live.
        NYC (soon Tokyo?)

      2. Organize a Jewish scientist mixer if you want one! I’m not being facetious, I’m sure they’d let you. I’ve been to mixers based on age (young scientists), alumni organization, fraternity, division, you name it. I don’t see why that would be a problem.

        Or maybe I’m missing the issue here – is it the case that the meeting itself organized and paid for it, where they don’t do the same for other groups? That would be a problem and if I missed that bit, I apologize. I assumed this one was set up the way every other mixer I’ve been to is – some sub-group proposes it to the meeting organizers and offers to pay for the food etc. The meeting organizers look to see if they have room left in the time slot requested, and if they do, give their permission. Is that not the case here?

  2. The annual “Evolution Meeting” is taking place next month in Cleveland …

    You make the trip, Jerry, you could catch your first-ever Guardians’ game. They’ve got a seven-game homestand against the Red Sox and Twins during the last week of June.

    If you get to the ballpark, be sure to root, root, root for the home team, ‘kay?

    1. Christine Lavin says to “root, root, root for both teams. Win or lose we’re all just the sa-a-a-ame.” That’s from her song about the one softball game she ever played, a pickup game with the women at work where the only contact she made with the ball was a pathetic little grounder to the pitcher who threw it to first before she had even dropped the bat. The Mean Girl captain of the other team said, in her best mean-girl voice, “Oh, she doesn’t know to play so we won’t count her outs.” They lost 19-3.
      The song starts with, “Do you remember that song by Janice Ian / About not being chosen for the basketball tee-‘m?”
      My kind of athlete.

      1. Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
        The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
        And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
        But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Lavin has ground out.

    1. I’m also pretty sure that the at sign @ is used in Spanish to avoid using “o” or “a” endings in order to be inclusive where necessary? Although that only works with written material and is useless in spoken Spanish.

  3. The prizes and respective symposiums are still named here: and in particular the winner and honorable mentions for the Dobzhansky prize were announced two days ago on the SSE website.

    I’ll be attending the conference as a grad student though will not be attending any of the mixers or workshops (mainly because it would cost extra money and require me to travel in earlier than I planned to). Judging by last year’s virtual event, I’m sure the talks/presentations will primarily be solid science regardless. The social will be held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so perhaps even “an old grouch” would find something to enjoy! I’m definitely curious to see what it’s like myself, never been to Cleveland or a large in-person conference.

    1. You might want to take one of the several Cuyahoga River boat tours. The barge/boat starts at the mouth of the river on Lake Erie and passes under many road and rail bridges of various designs. Some are drawbridges which open, again in various modes. The whole effect is like the doors to the secret chamber in the sit-com Get Smart, which if you are a grad student will of course not remember.. Others, like expressways, are built high enough not to need to open for barge traffic. When we did it, the boat went as far up river — 45 min? — as the big hulking steel works which had just gone under and was a brown-field. But I see now that it is a going concern again owned by Acelor-Mittal making specialty steel. The Cuyahoga is the river that famously caught fire in 1969 during that same industrial heyday.

      Way more interesting than I would have thought and the commentary was knowledgeable. Any kind of large movable bridge is an industrial and engineering marvel. Retractable roofs on stadiums are often built by bridge construction firms.

      In the olden days, the joke was about a contest where first prize was a weekend in Cleveland. Second prize was a whole week. I’d like to see Cleveland making a come-back.

      1. I’ll look into those boat tours, thanks! I think most of my free time will only be during the evenings though the final day I’m there should be mostly open so that may work. If I travel I usually try to make a point of seeing some local nature though I’m not sure how far out of the city I’ll be able to go with time constraints.

  4. LOL. I saw “latine” for the first time Tuesday, googled it, and found the same article you did.

    The totalizing aspect of modern racial Progressivism means that there can be no neutrality. Either organizations fall in line and declare their adherence to the party line, or they are reactionary or facist or racist or whatever the term of abuse is this century.

  5. > we needn’t—and shouldn’t—see how animals express sexuality to inform our own morality towards those with different sexual expression.

    Whether we should or shouldn’t, we have to. It is only necessary as a rebuttal. As long as homophobes claim that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’, our first response should be to show that it is, in fact, natural, and is found elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, there is some kind of weird fallacy where people conflate their personal distaste or morality with the ‘unnatural’.

    1. No, we don’t have to. As my paragraph reads, if you are going to justify behaviors seen in nature as “natural” as opposed to “unnatural”, then you’re going to have to justify a bunch of behaviors you don’t like as “well, they’re natural.” This includes killing your kids, your groupmates, rape, and so on. Those are in fact fare more prevalent than “gayness” in animals. (You see the issue: “natural” does not mean “good”!

      I can mount a perfectly good defense of nondiscrimination against gay people without mentioning whether any animals are “gay” (and the animal behavior described as “gay” often bears no resemblance to human homosexuality). In fact, I wouldn’t mention animals at all. Homosexuality is a choice between consenting adults and harms nobody, and that’s all she wrote. I don’t think you have to answer the homophobes by scouring nature to see if gay behavior is somewhere. What if it’s found in only 1% or fewer of species, however you define it. Does that make it sufficiently “natural” to silence the homophobes? I don’t think so. What if there were only one known case in 7 million species. Does that make it “natural” according to your lights, “found elsewhere in the animal kingdom.” What percentage of species showing gay behavior (please define it!) is sufficient to rebut homophobes.

      I don’t think we need to play on their field. Even if it was seen in no other species that does not strengthen the case of those who would discriminate against gays.

  6. ‘Despite its increasingly frequent use, a Gallup poll claims only 5% of Hispanic Americans prefer the term “Latinx.”’

    I find this a peculiar if not somewhat tortured locution, if not also a non sequitur. Just how “increasingly frequent” is the use? (Has the use increased from slightly greater than 0% to 5%?) That phrase itself is a claim, unaccompanied by any evidence, uttered by an organization supposedly subscribing to rational inquiry and evidence-gathering. I don’t recall ever hearing of any other poll result being reported as a “claim.”

    Am reminded of the NY Times’s frequent use of ” this happened even though this other (allegedly contradictory) thing occurred. . .” non sequitur verbiage, trying to sneak an opinion into reporting.

  7. This is the first time I’ve seen “Latines” as a gender-neutral alternative to “Latinx.”

    Did anyone else think “Latines eunt domus” when seeing it, or is it just me?

  8. Why, in this day and age, would people decide they do not like how others identify themselves, then arbitrarily invent nonsense terms for them, and expect them to comply?

    1. The whole thing is a very stupid, but very human (but I repeat myself) tendency that has gone on for centuries.

      The last major dispute, the Macedonian question, was resolved in 2019. Short summary: Greece, and therefore the EU, refused to acknowledge the (Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia/FYROM, and it took almost 30 years until they finally let themselves be forced to rename themselves ‘Northern Macedonia’ to smooth relations with the UN, NATO, and the EU.

  9. In case anybody wondered, the bird in the Evolution’s Rainbow pic is a Lilac Breasted Roller, one of 5 roller species commonly found in South Africa. The beautifully coloured Lilac Breasted is particularly common in the Kruger National Park, and as a result probably one of the most photographed bird species in the country.

  10. Since Latin America seems to be broadly “all of America except the USA and Canada”, I propose we just call Latin America “America” and we call the USA and Canada “English America” based on the predominant language spoken there.

  11. “A woman from Spain would be Hispanic, but not Latina.”
    Not by far. The only context in which Hispanic is used in Spain regarding Spanish people is referencing Roman times or as a nickname for a national sport teams (Handball) as a “mythic” name, specially after the “Gladiator” movie in which the protagonist is call “The Hispanic”.
    When a Spanish national is referred as Hispanic in the USA he or she would usually reject it and preferred to be known as European, unless she is an actor and has to appeal to that demographic.

  12. That awful book by Joan Roughgarden disappointed me greatly. Science warped to justify her own life choices.

  13. Not sure about Spanish speaking American countries, but in Brazil modifying words with a gender neutral ending -e is getting a lot of play, as in amigues as opposed to either amigos or amigas. So Latines would make sense in theory, though I’ve never heard of it.

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