Woke scientists have called for the terms male and female to be replaced as part of a crackdown on ‘harmful terminology’ in science.
Instead, “sperm-producing” and “egg-producing” or “XY/XX individual” should be used to avoid reinforcing “socially imposed ideas about a binary sex,” researchers suggest.
Even the terms mom, dad and fitness are in the firing line.
Some members of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Language Project, founded by scientists in the US and Canada, wrote that “much of Western science is rooted in colonialism, white supremacy and patriarchy” that “continue to permeate our scientific culture.”
To “address this history,” “harmful” scientific terms should be identified and revised to “promote inclusion,” they argued.
The term “optimization” forces the idea that a species evolves towards a defined, fixed optimum, researchers say (Stock)
It comes amid a wider push to change the language to be less offensive, with doctors arguing last summer that the term “morbid obesity” should be dropped.
Write in the journal Trends in ecology and evolutionresearchers said efforts to promote “inclusive language” in science are “particularly important to remedy the continued marginalization of many groups.”
It was co-written by scientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and universities in the US, including Michigan, California and New Jersey.
The EEB Language Project website lists the “top 24 harmful terms” used in science that can be “harmful or offensive,” and “substitute terms.”
In addition to masculine and feminine, the words mother and father are criticized for perpetuating a “non-universal” view of “the process of upbringing and birth.”
‘Parent’, ‘egg donor’ and ‘sperm donor’ are suggested as substitute terms.
Which scientific terms were considered ‘harmful’?
Harmful term: blind / double blind / plant blindness
Context: Disability metaphor
Replacement : Conscience
Harmful term: feminized / masculinized
Context: Feminized implies that ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ are biological characteristics rather than social constructs
Replacement : Describe the specifics
Harmful term: man Woman
Context: Strongly anthropomorphic / Prejudice about men or masculine characteristics
Replacement: Male or female / Human
Harmful term: Survival of the fittest
Context: Eugenics, Ability and Social Darwinism
Replacement: Natural selection / Survival differences
Harmful term: Sex
Context: Gender, a social construction, is often confused with sex
Harmful term: Man Woman
Context: These terms are used to reinforce socially imposed ideas of a gender binary, emphasizing cis-normative and hetero-normative views
Replacement: Sperm-producing/egg-producing or XY/XX individual
Professor Frank Furedi, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, explained The Telegraph: ‘I think that when you characterize terms like man/woman, mother/father as harmful, you leave science for ideological advocacy.
“Regardless of intent, the project of redesigning language will confuse many and the last thing scientists need is a lack of clarity about the meaning of the words they are using.”
The EEB Language Project was launched this month by a team consisting of Dr. Kaitlyn Gaynor, Dr. Alex Moore and Dr. Danielle Ignace, three researchers from the University of British Columbia.
It also marks “survival of the fittest” as a problematic term that promotes “eugenics, aptitude and social Darwinism.”
Instead, “natural selection” or “survival differences” should be used, it argues.
Even the term “double-blind,” used to describe studies in which neither volunteers nor scientists know which participants are taking a drug or a placebo, can harm people with disabilities, the website states.
In the journal, the researchers write: ‘Ameliorating the institutional problems in EEB will require significant effort and resources, and examining the role of language in these problems must go beyond attention to scientific terms.
‘It should also take into account how language is used by scientists more broadly, and how English is often treated as the dominant language for scientific work.
“Nevertheless, we propose that inclusion can be fostered through a collective commitment to be more conscientious and aware of the scientific terminology we use in teaching, guiding, collaborating and conducting research.”
It comes after Haley Branch, who is also a researcher at the University of British Columbia, argued that the term “fitness” is “harmful.”
The word is vague and skillful — discriminatory against people with disabilities — she said.
Another word in their sights is “optimization,” which is used to denote values that maximize an organism’s chances of survival in a specific environment.
But the researchers say it perpetuates the mistaken idea that there is a fixed optimum for species.
The EEB Language Project grew out of a Twitter conversation between a few people discussing potentially harmful language.
The project will be a ‘living document’ for people to submit suggestions online, say the researchers behind it.
Dr. Gaynor said: ‘We reached out to several networks in ecology and evolution aimed at increasing inclusion and equity in the field to rally support for a very specific action – reviewing terminology that could be harmful to certain people , especially those of historical groups. and currently excluded from science.’
The EEB Language Project and Ms. Branch’s research team recognize that in most cases the harm caused by such terminology is unintentional, as what is considered offensive by one may not be perceived as problematic by another.
Dr. Moore said, “There have been a lot of big conversations about inclusion in the field, and often there aren’t clear steps people can take.
‘It was important for us to think about one manageable approach that people can apply in their work at an individual level – and at different scales within the discipline – to make well-considered choices to move forward.’