On the harm, violence, and danger of wrongspeak in ecology and evolution

February 8, 2023 • 12:00 pm

Let me begin by trying to note what’s good about this new article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, for Dan Dennett suggests, properly, that one should credit one’s opponents with the good and correct things they say before taking issue with the other stuff.

First, the article below is motivated by good sentiments: the desire to weed out bigotry from the disciplines of ecology and evolution and make them less off-putting to people. Second, although thepaper suggest deep-sixing some words and phrases in those fields(which they call “hateful terminology”, some of which perpetuates “violence”)—and I disagree with language-purging in general—it is good to pay some attention when you’re suggesting new terms or naming things.

But in general I think the desire to purge scientific language is not only Pecksniffian, usually carried on by well-motivated people who are simply looking to find offense, or even create offense, but also performative: a way to tout one’s ability to be virtuous and find terms that are potentially offensive.

But especially in science, which is driven by data, if you’re going to change terminology on political or ideological grounds, you should have data that that terminology really is harmful (i.e., driving people out of the field or discouraging people from entering), and that changing terminology will actually work, breeding a feeling of greater inclusion and, above all, creating more equality in the field. This paper, like all the other science papers that make the same point, is notably short of data. It rests on claims that terminology might be offensive (or has offended one or two people), and gives no post facto data showing that the terms could promote or have promoted inclusivity.  Further, the paper says nothing new: every suggestion here (except for digging up a few new words that might bother people) has been made before: changing the name of the Gypsy moth (now the “spongy moth”, changing the common names of birds named for people who did bad things in the past, and so on.

One of the main reasons I object to this language combing is that it actually makes terms offensive for people weren’t previously aware of their offense.  Who would have objected to the name “Townsend’s warbler,” for instance, until the Pecksniffs plowed through Townsend’s biography and found that he dug up Native American remains and sequestered their skulls so that others could study cranial capacity? Granted, that’s a bad thing to do, but until you’re told about it, you have no reason to become offended. Was this initiative started because lots of birders independently became offended at having to say “Townsend’s warbler”? I doubt it; it seems more likely that, given the ideological climate, a group of entitled people decided that they could find names that could be seen to be offensive and get them purged. Whether or not that happens decides on how people judge the “offensiveness” of the name or word.

In other words, the people who engage in these projects seem to be looking to find words that would offend people who weren’t offended before. Is that a good thing? I don’t see how: what kind of endeavor would try to find bd things about words and people—things that weren’t generally known—and then use them to sensitize people so that they now become offended when they weren’t? One could say that it’s simply to increase our knowledge of the history of science, but that’s doesn’t seem to be the goal, either. The goal, I think, is ultimately to achieve power: power to foist your ideology upon others by controlling language, and the power to determine what’s good or bad.

Here’s the introductory paragraph, which I swear bears a strong similarity to many other pieces of its ilk:

In recent years, events such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and waves of anti-Black violence have highlighted the need for leaders in EEB to adopt inclusive and equitable practices in research, collaboration, teaching, and mentoring [1.2.3.]. As we plan for a more inclusive future, we must also grapple with the exclusionary history of EEB. Much of Western science is rooted in colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, and these power structures continue to permeate our scientific culture [1,4,5]. Here, we discuss one crucial way to address this history and make EEB more inclusive for marginalized communities: our choice of scientific terminology.

This is not only the claim that ecology and evolution are “rooted” in horrible bigotry, but that these fields are still permeated with it. I reject that claim, nor do the three proffered references support it; check for yourself.

You can read the paper by clicking below, and you can find the pdf here. 

 

Here is the sole evidence that a term was offensive: one student got tired of hearing it:

For example, one of our authors trained in the USA recalls ‘how tired I was as an undergrad hearing how invasive species from other countries decimate pristine US ecosystems. It reminds me of when people tell me or other people of color to “go back to where we came from”. Why would I want to be in a field that exoticizes immigrants or reinforces narratives that immigrants are a plague?’

In fact, that author still is in the field, which shows that, in the end, these words don’t force people out of the field, and therefore changing them will not increase diversity.  I have to say that the use of “invasive” species is not meant to apply to immigrants, and I don’t find it offensive or recommend that it be abandoned. For I see no widespread sentiment that the word is offensive or “non-inclusive”. Again, the badness is a badness of intent, and those people who say “go back to where we came from” are the bad ones. Those who use “invasive” species are guilty of nothing except triggering people who should not be triggered. (As an aside, the cure for being triggered, so I hear from psychologists, is not avoidance but exposure, which gets you inured to what used to disturb you.)

And this makes the point that a word can have multiple meanings, some of them perfectly innocuous. Do you abandon a word because some of its meanings can be offensive and others not. “Abe”, for example, was a pejorative term for “Jew”. Should we not use it in any names? Likewise, “shine” was a quite offensive term for black person. We can eliminate its use as a racial slur (and have), but we needn’t omit the word in other contexts, as in “shoeshine”. When a word or a name has neutral and bad construals (like “shine”), or a name has good and bad associations (like “Audubon”), do we accept only the bad ones and get rid of the word completely?

Here are some of the few examples they use; the paper is more about the harm and violence of ecological and evolutionary language than about exactly how people have been damaged by its use.

 

Superpredator” refers to how humans act as, well, super predators”that can wipe out any individual or species they want.  Why is it offensive? I have no idea. UPDATE: Now I do, and depending on whether the ecological or pejorative legal-system use of the term came first, I could see how the word might be deemed offensive.

The renaming of the Gypsy moth to “spongy moth” is the only example I can find that might be a salubrious change, as “Gypsy” is now considered a pejorative to be replaced with “Roma.”  I don’t mind the change, but nor do i see it making the study of lepidoptera more inclusive. But the field is not loaded with terms like that: we don’t, for example, see “Hitler’s beetle” or the “n-word moth”, and if we did I’d say that people should stop using those.

But I see nothing wrong with “invasive species” or “alien species” so long as they’re used as they have been: to describe nonhuman species entering into areas where they’re not native or endemic.  One wouldn’t find that term offensive until people tell them it’s offensive because it has been used to refer to human immigrants.  Used in the proper context, though, it’s not offensive. Words like that do not, used in these contexts, promote xenophobia against human beings, as the authors claim. Has anybody become more xenophobic when hearing that the spongy moth is invasive? I doubt it.  But if you do find one or a few people who maintain that, I would tell them that that construal is their problem, for it’s not what’s intended, and people can learn to control how they react to words.  As always, intent matters.

There are no more words to be expunged that I can see in this paper, nor data supporting the claim that changing terminology will make the field more inclusive. You can find other claims in the several papers that argue for changing the common names of birds, but I’m not going to go into them, as I have before.  I doubt that this mass bowdlerization will make ecology and evolution more welcoming. Nor will there ever be a test of that: what we see are people making clams about what words are offensive, and I wonder why they should have the power to dictate what words we should or should not use. (This is similar to Hitchens’s question about who would you trust to decide what books you can and cannot read.) If there were palpable evidence of people running for the STEM egress because of ecological and evolutionary language, I’d change my tune, but that’s just not happening.

Finally, the authors have one more plaint: the ubiquity of English as the language of science:

Mitigating the institutional problems in EEB will take significant effort and resources, and examining the role of language in these problems must go beyond attention to scientific terms. It must also include consideration of how language is used among scientists more broadly, and how English is often treated as the dominant language for scientific work.

. . . The use of English as the dominant vehicle for communicating science in publishing and public engagement also limits participation in, and recognition of, scientific contributions to EEB [1,10,11]

I can’t control what language scientists use, and what are we supposed to do about the use of English? Write in Esperanto? English developed as the common language of science, just as Latin used to be the common language of scholars and scientists, because it is the language that is most used. If science really is supposed to be a worldwide enterprise that includes everyone, then there must be one language in which all scientists can be conversant. Right now that happens to be English, and yes, it excludes those who can’t speak or write the language. For that I apologize on behalf of all Anglophones. But really, what are we supposed to do about it? The authors give no suggestions.

60 thoughts on “On the harm, violence, and danger of wrongspeak in ecology and evolution

  1. “Why is [‘superpredator’] offensive? I have no idea.”
    They regard it as offensive because the term was used in the 90s to describe young men, especially African Americans, who supposedly committed violence without remorse (see, e.g., “superpredator myth” on wikipedia).

    “we don’t, for example, see ‘Hitler’s beetle'”
    You’re not familiar with Anophthalmus hitleri?

    1. What’s nuts is that people can simply choose to recognize the actual roots of a given word or phrase that is not, in fact, “offensive,” and proceed from there.

      In other words, to a certain extent, people are choosing to be offended, or at least expressing their sense of same.

      Choose not to be offended is becoming one of my watchwords.

  2. I think this is mainly all virtue signalling by young scientists who need DEI credentials. Extremely harmful and violence-causing, if you ask me.

    1. Yes it’s pure credentialing. Vitally important currency to earn as a grad student or postdoc, but meaningless except to those who are buyers in the academic job economy.

  3. “we don’t, for example, see “Hitler’s beetle” ”
    Well actually: Anophthalmus hitleri (Slovene: Hitlerjev brezokec) is a species of blind cave beetle found only in about fifteen humid caves in Slovenia……The dedication did not go unnoticed by the Führer, who sent Scheibel a letter showing his gratitude (It says on Wikipedia. Names in 1933}
    I guessed that a politician who once had considerable (and influential) political support might well get a species named after him. Lo and behold. I wonder if it will be up for a rename.

    1. Simon: according to the rules of zoological nomenclature, and assuming it really was a new species, the Latin name CANNOT be renamed. The common name can be whatever people want (so if it’s called “Hitler’s beetle” that can be changed) but a Latin binomial, once in the literature and adopted by the Roolz committee, is there for keeps.

      1. Yes, agree on th latin, stuck with it. It’s a blind cave beetle with a limited range. It could be worse! If you search for “Hitler beetle”, it’s this guy or the VW (which got away from its roots!)

  4. ” The use of English as the dominant vehicle for communicating science in publishing and public engagement also limits participation in, and recognition of, scientific contributions to EEB.” The authors are doing what they can to end the domination of English in science.
    As contributions like theirs become ubiquitous, real science will more and more come to be written in other languages, such as Chinese, Finnish, or Hebrew.

    1. When I went up to Oxford to read Chemistry in 1968, I had to take (and pass) a translation exam in my first year: from either Russian or German (the other two main languages of chemistry) into English.

      I chose German (and passed), largely thanks to my tutor, the late Prof AS Russell, who was then over 90, and in one of our first meetings told me of something he had “said to Nernst in 1905”. I was privileged to have met and learned from him.

      As and when serious science is published in languages other than English, people should be encouraged to learn those languages. I hope it never comes to the point where that is the only way of accessing scientific publications, as you suggest, but the way things are going….

      1. It used to be the case that you were expected to learn and read other languages. My BA (mid-1980) required two years’ language study. When I worked in the field of African linguistics 30 years ago, much of the research literature was in French and German. Nowadays there are few university degrees that require language study, and things like citation and ‘impact’ factors discourage researchers from publishing in languages other than English.

  5. I am not sure why you give the authors the benefit of the doubt on their good intentions. It is just as likely that their intentions are bad in wanting to drive confusion into the Sciences, intrude political ideology, and increase censorship.

    1. I try not to psychologize people unless I’m quite sure about their motives. In this case, I’m not, so I give them the benefit of the doubt. Whatever their motivations, I am more concerned with their arguments and actions.

    2. If those are their intentions then they could be doing it for good reasons — probably something involving Saving Science while protecting the victims of pseudoscience.

    3. If I was soon to go onto the job market, I’d certainly be motivated to publish a paper like this, even if I didn’t believe a word of it.

  6. Have any Roma (or Gypsy) people asked for the moth to be renamed, or is this offence taken on their behalf? In the UK, plenty of people are proud to regard themselves as “Gypsies” and do not consider the name derogatory.

      1. In Britain, I think it’s because there is a perception that they regard the law as a minor inconvenience and when they arrive at a convenient place to camp they trash it. Because the pejorative connotations got so bad, when I was growing up, there was a concerted campaign to stop calling them gypsies and start calling them “travellers” . The campaign succeeded, but inevitably, the negative connotations followed the vocabulary change.

        The problem is not the word but the poor bigoted attitude to the people who are labelled with the word. Even bigots are not so stupid as to be fooled by the rebranding.

        1. Where do Irish travellers fit in, Jeremy? During the Trump Presidency, a passel of them comprising two family groups with small children touring British Columbia, Canada, violated the U.S. border and were promptly arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol. They were incarcerated in a family facility in Pennsylvania until they could be deported back to the UK. They had British passports, but as soon as the Daily Mail ran photos of them in Arrivals at Heathrow, many British readers exclaimed. “Irish Travellers!”, “They are most definitely NOT British.” I gather there is a visual stereotype.

          The Washington Post, artfully played by one of the women in the group, had a field day because it could now claim there were babies in cages at both borders. In the anti-Trump climate of the time, American liberal readers were eager to believe the worse about his Administration. So were the British but they realized they’d been played for fools when their citizens arrived home.

    1. I didn’t realize that there are “official” common names. So the entomological society of America says it designated a new common name. Especially interesting since it’s an invasive, alien species in the US. I always thought that a common name was the name commonly used. Not sure how an edict from a foreign society will really change the name in its home range.

      Is the late Francis Chichester going to get his boat renamed? “Spongy moth IV” doesn’t seem like a good name for a racing yacht!

      1. Official common names can be ridiculous. Look at the red-bellied woodpecker! Apparently some dead specimen had some reddish belly feathers when the official name was chosen. But it’s a really bad name and wasn’t a name in actual use until chosen as the official ommon name.

      2. Having “official common names” completely misses the point of common names; they are names used in common, by non-scientists. If they are “official”, they are not common. So, being a commoner, I can happily ignore whatever the stuffed shirt brigade says about common names, especially since what one calls something is frequently different in one part of the country or in different English-speaking countries, and neither are right or wrong. Take Marmota monax, for instance. One group of common folk might call it a marmot, another, groundhog, somewhere else, a whistle pig, or maybe woodshock, land beaver, red monk or thick-wood badger. And we can still have indigenous common names for them as well, like in Cherokee, it’s (roughly phonetically speaking) O-ga-nuh. All common, all confusing, but all the same animal and this is why we call it Mamota monax. Same goes for the dozens of charming names for what I grew up calling a rolypoly or the starfish (it’s not a fish, the arrogant word police whine. Yeah, well it’s not a fucking superheated ball of plasma and will never go supernova either, so what’s your damn point?!) What these peckingsniff middle class wokees don’t seem to get is having a scientific name changes nothing for the common salt of the earth average Joes and Janes and same goes for those stuffy holier than thou birders or the entomological society and their “official common names”. Official and common are simply at odds with one another and one can simply refuse to follow these busy-bodies and their word policing. Scientific names for clarity, but common names for culture and creativity and we can all ignore these edicts proclaimed from on high by these groups of edictheads.

    2. In Spain, the equivalent to “gypsy” is “gitano”. Although it can be used in a pejorative way, it doesn’t seem to me that they themselves have trouble using that word. In fact, there are plenty of organizations that use that term in their names. For instance, “Fundación Secretariado Gitano”, “Consejo Estatal del Pueblo Gitano”. The first one uses “gitano” all the time, but then, in the English version of its webpage, takes care of using “Roma”. I find it interesting.

    3. Mark Forsyth argues in The Etymologicon that the name comes from the folk belief that these people are Egyptian. (Shakespeare has Cleopatra refer to “my Gypsy lust” for Marc Antony.) Supposedly a family of Egyptians refused to give asylum to either the baby Jesus or the Three Wise Men—I’m hazy on the details—and their descendants are condemned forever to wander the earth with no fixed address.

      Because “Gypsys, Tramps, and Thieves” are seen as troublemakers albeit romantic ones, we have settled on calling them Roma. There is no evidence they come from Romania. Nor does their language, says Forsyth, at all resemble Romansch but it has some similarities to Sanskrit. (Preceding sentence edited for clarity.). So they are probably from what is now India.

      Further, says Forsyth, the Spanish believed they were Belgian Flemish which led to their dance style being called flamenco.

  7. It’s great for large numbers of people in power who have no problems to be inclusive for problems small numbers of people have and are powerless over:

    left-handedness
    baldness
    White-haired-ness
    cilantro-tastes-like-soap-ness
    Russian invasion
    Those with no access to running water or medical care

    … I mean, the list goes on and on. How does one decide which victims to include?

    1. ‘cilantro-tastes-like-soap-ness’… Ahhh, so it’s not just me who thinks coriander is a herb incomprehensibly added to Asian food, to be picked out piece by loathsome piece in order to eat an otherwise tasty dish.

      On the topic du jour, when I think of invasive species, I think of madeira vine and knotweed smothering our native trees and bushes, or possums in their millions defoliating our forests. That the student thinks of immigrants as invasive species tells us something about the student’s thoughts rather than anyone else’s. As the saying goes, ‘When you hear the dog whistle, you’re the dog.”

      1. The first time I noticed cilantro/coriander I was in Thailand. I told my traveling companion that the restaurant hadn’t rinsed the soap out of my soup bowl.

        I sent it back. Same taste.

        Now I know better. I’m a “cilantro-tastes-like-soaper”!

  8. … what kind of endeavor would try to find bd things about words and people—things that weren’t generally known—and then use them to sensitize people so that they now become offended when they weren’t?

    The only thing I can think of here would be therapists or people acting as therapists encouraging victims to leave or condemn their abuser. “You think Bob’s a “little bit bad?” You don’t know how bad Bad Bob is. Look at this!” And the sobbing wife finally decides to go No Contact.

    In this situation Bad Bob appears to be the Glorified Past and it’s only by renouncing as much of it as much as possible that today’s victims can stop trying to make peace or get along and purge the poison from their psyches. A sort of consciousness-raising, perhaps.

    This guess is pretty lame, but the second only other thing I can think of is that pointing out hitherto unknown atrocities is a conditioned response to an audience that enjoys having reasons to feel outraged and beleaguered and doles out attention and praise accordingly. The pigeons are playing table tennis.

  9. The pushback against the idea, not just the term “Invasive Species” is something I’ve only encountered secondhand, primarily from Tony Santore’s Crime Pays podcast, where he shares some of the idiot comments people make when he uses the term when railing against the “horticultural atrocities” that the ignorant masses insist must be planted in parks, lawns, and gardens instead of the native species. Anyone in ecology who doesn’t understand the term, or doesn’t understand the damage invasive species do to native ones, from plants to insects, to reptiles and mammals, has no business being in ecology. Would they really rather have all continents and island have the same small handful of generalist species compared to the beautiful diversity of healthy ecosystems? Idiocy!

    1. If misunderstanding of the term “invasive species” is common, maybe better to use a more easily understood term, like “harmful non-native species”. I guess it it proper to take the ethnocentric view of “harm”, but for another viewpoint, see Brook Benton quoting the boll weevil to the farmer: just “lookin’ for a home, gotta have a home.”

      1. It’s not a common misunderstanding so much as it is a new form of willful misrepresentation by a loud minority of arrogant wokees trying to police everyone else’s lives to suit their own twisted ideologies. Invasive species is a simple enough concept, one that even a child can understand, as I did when I first came across it. I don’t recall any difficulties when a 10-yr old me read about the damage that invasive rats and goats did the the Galapagos and their eponymous tortoises, and I’m far from being a genius. True, these university students ACT like children, but they are not. They are simply offense junkies looking for a fix.

  10. The word “gypsy” is not eschewed by all the various groups involved. There are lots of groups with different views about how they want to be spoken of. In the UK and Ireland, there is an organization of Travellers, Gypsies and Roma that in various ways supports the members of these groups, and they use all three labels.

    1. In Spain and Portugal, though some NGO organizations have adopted the term “Romaní”, the community almost always refers to themselves as “gitano/a” (“cigano” in Portugal) or more infrequently “Calé”. I have to assume that this is another “Latinx” situation.

      1. I don’t think this is like the Latinx case. I think there is a substantial group within the very large and scattered group of Roma people who did not want to be called Gypsies, and who have emphasized the pejorative use of terms like “gyp”.

        1. Maybe. But there are many people in any large group who object to being called something or other. So if your goal is to refer to people without them objecting, which is what you appear to be implicating, how on earth can you decide what words to use?

          Surely, as PCC has suggested, the thing that matters above all else is intent, and if you don’t use intent what do you use?

          Exactly how many offended group members must there be before you rename an insect? Should it be based on a proportion of the group? Or the total number of individuals? Should it depend on how ‘marginalised’ that group is? And who decides their degree of marginalisation?

          Surely, the only sensible way to approach this is by treating it with common sense. We should consider motivations, intent and the genuine consequences that may arise. The spurious claims of ‘harm’ and ‘trauma’ should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

        2. The fact that there is a pejorative form of “gypsy” indicates that it is not, in itself, a pejorative (in the same way that the despective “jap” was invented for japanese). So, although some people may prefer the word “Roma” (and if asked personally by them I would refer to them as such)it is not a majority and deepsixing the term is, at best performative, and at worst a rather authoritative push.

  11. Comment from a friend: “It’s like seeing the Inquisition as a career opportunity”. Complete with soft cushions and the comfy chair.

  12. Superpredator” refers to how humans act as, well, super predators”that [sic] can wipe out any individual or species they want. Why is it offensive?

    I think the pejorative connotations of “superpredator” arise from the use the term to describe certain (almost exclusively urban) criminals to justify the unconscionably long federal minimum-mandatory sentences, and “three strikes” laws, enacted during the mid-1990s — as pushed by, among others, the Clintons and Al Gore (and even then-US senator Joe Biden). These triangulating, Democratic-Leadership-Council types were out to counter the Republican narrative that they were “soft on crime.” Nobody was gonna “Willie Horton” them the way Poppy Bush had Michael Dukakis.

    It played upon racial stereotypes, the same way as did Bill Clinton’s manufactured set-to with author Sister Souljah, and — when he was a Democratic candidate in 1992 — his making a big show of leaving the campaign trail (after the Gennifer Flowers affair story broke) to return to the governor’s mansion to oversee the cynical execution of severely retarded inmate Ricky Ray Rector. (I voted for one Clinton or another three times for president, but I will never forgive Bubba for that one.)

      1. Even if that were true, should that be avoided by everyone or just by people in the US? Does it make sense that all scientists should use wording that is acceptable to and reflects US cultural norms? This makes me think of the different use of fag in the US (as a slur about gay people) and fag in the UK (meaning cigarette). Just because something may be offensive in one context, doesn’t mean that it’s offensive everywhere.

    1. I can find the term actually applied to species, typically humans, who kill other predators, not necessarily on an extermination basis, as here:

      Fear of the human ‘super predator’ reduces feeding time in large carnivores
      https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2017.0433

      But I suppose, “Fear of humans reduces feeding time . . .” would work just as well. And at sea it’s a commonplace: orcas eat seals which eat big fish which eat little fish.
      Certainly the seals skedaddle when the orca gangs show up. Does it add anything to call an orca a super-predator?

      The beast within: how humans evolved into super predators
      https://www.uvic.ca/news/topics/2016+humans-as-super-predators+ring#:~:text=You%20need%20not%20look%20far,Research%20published%20in%20the%20Aug.

      Ironically, the term seems to be popular as a pejorative social-science term for human beings, not in biology proper, as in the second of the above two references. You would think social scientists would have better memories of the Clinton Administration. So perhaps it has little scientific validity after all and eliminating it would actually be a blow against woke-ism. If they only knew. Maybe we should call exterminative predation by people, “Mega-maga-predation.

      And, since Ken raises it in the context of the proper choice of terms, was Mr. Rector known to be mentally deficient before he shot himself in the head after committing the crimes he was later convicted of? If so, then it is fine to call him retarded — no stickler for political correctness am I — but if he was a half-wit only after he shot his frontal lobes to mush, the correct term is acquired brain injury from penetrating trauma, not mental retardation. He could have had both, of course, hence my question.

  13. This excerpted quote in particular gives me strong pause with the arguments being made:

    “For example, one of our authors trained in the USA recalls ‘how tired I was as an undergrad hearing how invasive species from other countries decimate pristine US ecosystems. It reminds me of when people tell me or other people of color to “go back to where we came from”. Why would I want to be in a field that exoticizes immigrants or reinforces narratives that immigrants are a plague?’”

    This strikes me not as an instinct toward inclusivity, but in fact as an egregiously egocentric response. Perhaps this author’s undergrad teachers had some kind of cartoonish love for the “pristine US ecosystem” (unlikely, but hey, I wasn’t there), but most ecologists teaching at university would have a more global understanding of their field, wouldn’t they? There are particular portions of ecosystems the world over that experience adverse reactions to non-native, introduced, or otherwise “invasive” species. I’d recommend this author take a flight into New Zealand, see if they don’t come back thinking the kiwi people are colonialist microaggressors or whatever because of their concerns for their own “pristine ecosystem.”

    Anyway, it looks like this author, rather than processing their undergrad education in terms of the biological content (i.e. non-native organisms introduced to a new location can sometimes outcompete native organisms and, in dire cases, initiate an ecological domino effect that threatens extinction of the outcompeted organisms) elected to process it in terms of their very specific – and preexisting – personalized internal sociopolitical ideology. bro

    1. Well said, I couldn’t agree more. Someone so cynically intent on being offended will never be satisfied, no matter how much you grovel. There’s no point even trying to reason with them. These people almost always lack distinction through their conventional academic work. Therefore, they have no choice but to come up with this sort of crap to keep themselves in a job. The trouble is that most universities now see this stuff as being just as important as any specific academic ability they might possess. Given this sad state of affairs, there is nothing to persuade younger academics to behave otherwise. So, while this nonsense helps pay the bills, people will continue to flaunt and bemoan their ‘marginalisation’, or whatever other offense they claim to suffer from.

  14. “You can read the paper by clicking below.”
    Thanks, but I have a nice new pencil and have opted to drive it up one of my nostrils instead.

  15. “Why would I want to be in a field that exocitizes immigrants or reinforces narratives that immigrants are the plague?”
    This student is harming marginalized groups. “Field” is deeply offensive as the wise folx at USC know! (I hope you can see I’m being sarcastic here).

  16. What will we do with common names like “German cockroach”, “American cockroach”, “pygmy grasshopper”, “Japanese beetle”, and “black widow spider”?

  17. As well as myself, a lot of big shots in our area of interest frequently retweet your articles (as you’ll know). Never bemoan the size of your readership without including their (Dawkins, Pinker, etc) amplification of your pieces.

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! Few people have the cred, audience and academic chops to take on wokeness in science that you do.
    D.A.
    NYC

    1. I second that. And I say that even though I personally am less interested in your “wokeness in science” articles than your other topics. Keep it coming.

  18. “One of the main reasons I object to this language combing is that it actually makes terms offensive for people weren’t previously aware of their offense.”

    If the wokists were actually aware of the large body of academic work related to justice and moral reasoning developed over the last few centuries, some of which provided theoretical foundations for such matters as theory of criminal law, medical ethics and laws of wartime, and did not reject it out of hand as the work of “dead white male Europeans”, they’d know why harm and offense are relevantly different. For one thing, it’s possible to be harmed without knowing one has been harmed, but it’s not possible to be offended without knowing one has been offended, or at least feeling *something* bad. And given that the offense one feels in any situation may range from complete non-caring to the kind of passionate offense one only achieves with training in grievance studies, it makes no sense to give priority not just to the most offended, but to someone who may not even exist. It’s as one author put it- “Making a dog in the manger the tyrant of the Universe”, where the dog-in-the-manger itself is a fiction.

  19. It’s sad and embarrassing, after growing up seeing students in protest of matters like apartheid, useless wars and corporate greed, and knowing about some of the horrible abuses ongoing in the world today – up to and including slavery in its many forms- to see students now stoop to combing through texts looking for words that a creative mind might connect, however indirectly, to something bad that happened in the past, and that someone may- although probably not- find offensive. It’s sad to look at social justice, arguably one of the most important things there is, being so trivialized, and its brand so damaged, in the eyes of a nation where most people actually care about right and wrong.

  20. I grew up (scientifically speaking) with “gel retardation assays” ( short simple) which then morphed into “electrophoretic mobility shift assays”because it came to be considered inappropriate to use the term retardation in any context whatsoever including as a description of proteins bound to DNA moving more slowly through an acrylamide gel than unbound proteins.

    1. I know these assays. When I read your comment the first thing that came into my mind was how descriptive the name gel retardation is. It never occured to me to think of people with low IQ. If we remove words from use because they have been used in an insulting manner we will end up with no useable language.

  21. “For that I apologize on behalf of all Anglophones.”

    Never apologize when you face woke mob, just like you don’t feel shame about your biology research get “no different from sexism” result. Facts are facts even it no different with conservative-religious world view, it still fact.

    1. Forcing your opponent to apologize is one way of winning an argument that one would otherwise lose. It’s cheating, of course, and has nothing to do with the merits of the argument, but practically speaking it’s still winning. I guess. Shut down the Judo match and force your opponent to apologize and withdraw.

      In fact, it seems to me that pretty much all of the wokist arguments- “you can’t give an opinion on race because you’re white”, “you can’t give an opinion on abortion because you’re not a woman”, “I know X because of ‘lived experience'”, “all whites are racist by definition (our definition, not the dictionary definition)”, etc., aren’t arguments at all, only ways to win by cheating.

  22. If the authors’ H-index scores go up as a result of this publication I’m going to be offended!

    Also, I’m continually having to rid my garden of invasive ‘Wandering Jew’. That *is* a plant common name that I would like to have renamed! But I’m not going to write a paper about it.

  23. Other comments have eluded to this. When reading Jerry’s post it occured to me, how we would deal with a hypothetical German physician who described a new disease or syndrome in the late 19th century. His name Dr. Hitler. Would we still be calling it Hitler’s disease?

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