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Richard Dawkins says he will “use any of the harmful words” that academics want to be phased out


Acclaimed British biologist Richard Dawkins says he will continue to use “all forbidden words” amid calls in the scientific community to ban “harmful” gender-related terms.

The British author and scientist, 81, has criticized a project led by three academics by saying words such as man, woman, husband, wife, mother and father should be dropped.

As part of a crackdown on “harmful terminology” in science, members of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Language Project – founded by scientists in the US and Canada – published a list of 24 “harmful terms” yesterday.

Instead, they recommend that terms such as “sperm-producing” and “egg-producing” or “XY/XX individual” should be used to avoid reinforcing “socially imposed ideas about a binary sex.”

But Professor Dawkins, who has long questioned whether people can choose their gender, said he would not follow the recommendations. The Telegraph reports.

The British author and scientist, 81, has heeded calls from academics to delete words such as man, woman, husband, wife, mother and father.

1681208051 775 Richard Dawkins says he will use any of the harmful

He told the newspaper: ‘The only possible answer is contemptuous ridicule.

“I will continue to use all forbidden words. I am a professional user of the English language. It’s my native language.

“Some teenage version of Mrs. Grundy won’t let me know which words of my native language I can or can’t use.”

Prof Dawkins, whose books include The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene, has been joined by other eminent academics who have expressed concern that the ‘absurd’ alternative formulations could lead to confusion in the scientific community.

They claim that “egg production” and “sperm production” are not gender neutral, but are simply synonyms for male and female.

Professor Frank Furedi, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, added: ‘I think when you characterize terms like husband/wife, mother/father as harmful you are leaving 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 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.

In the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, researchers write that efforts to promote “inclusive language” in science are “particularly important to redress the ongoing marginalization of many groups.”

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.”

Atheist, ethologist, evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins speaks to a packed house at the 2014 Hay Festival

Atheist, ethologist, evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins speaks to a packed house at the 2014 Hay Festival

‘Parent’, ‘egg donor’ and ‘sperm donor’ are suggested as substitute terms.

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.”

Professor Dawkins’ comments, meanwhile, come after he was stripped of his ‘Humanist of the Year’ title in April 2021 after comparing transgender people to US activist Rachel Dolezal – who posed as a black woman for more than a decade.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) stripped the evolutionary biologist, 80, of the honor after appearing to question whether humans can choose their gender.

The move came 25 years after the evolutionary biologist was recognized for his “significant contributions” as a science communicator.

Which 24 terms were considered ‘harmful’?
Harmful term Context Replacement term
alien / non-native / exotic / invasive Xenophobic, anti-immigrant and militaristic Non-endemic species / Newly arrived species / Alien species / Introduced species / Nuisance species
blind / double blind / plant blindness Disability metaphor Conscience
citizen science Citizen science is harmful to non-citizens who are excluded by that language Participant Science / Community Science /
feminized / masculinized Feminized means that “feminine” and “masculine” are biological characteristics rather than social constructs Describe the specific properties
Gypsy Racial slurs were used to incite violence against Roma ‘spongy moth’
man Woman Strongly anthropomorphic / Prejudice towards men or masculine traits Male or female / Human
names after racist/eugenic/settlers They present problematic figures as noteworthy/someone to remember or celebrate Use native names / Use local names / Name based on appearance or morphology / Remove names from concepts
Survival of the fittest Eugenics, Ability and Social Darwinism Natural Selection / Survival Differences
Sex Gender, a social construct, is often confused with sex Sex
Hermaphrodite Derogatory term used to harm intersex and trans people. Monoecious/intersex/bi-gametic
Indonesian A discriminatory, racist term used to describe Indigenous peoples native
Man Woman These terms are used to reinforce socially imposed ideas of a gender binary, emphasizing cis-normative and hetero-normative views Sperm-producing/egg-producing or XY/XX individual
Mother father These terms perpetuate a non-universal heteronormative and cisnormative view of the upbringing and birth process. Parent/egg donor/sperm donor
Noose Term associated with anti-black violence and lynching Lasso
Primitive/Advanced Used derogatorily towards people or human practices, and also scientifically inaccurate, implying an evolutionary hierarchy Ancestral/derived
race Continues the idea that the human race is a biological rather than a social construct when used to describe non-human subspecies Population/subspecies/ecotype
virgin A social construction that reinforces heteropatriarchal norms Unpaired
colonization / colonizer Terms are harmful and triggering for indigenous peoples subjected to colonialism, racism and genocide and the use of the term describes normalization as a natural phenomenon rather than a destructive phenomenon with a human context. established/early successive species
discover / discover Clears the long-standing, detailed ecological knowledge of indigenous communities involved with local environments and ecosystems before colonialism and western science. identified / described
harem Perpetuates offensive stereotypes of human cultures, particularly those of the Middle East, and evokes a sexualized human power structure in which women are believed to be subject to men. mating group/polygny
master / master file / master equation / master variable Perpetuates harmful stereotypes and connotations for the enslavement of people of color and normalizes language associated with slavery and enslaved people. primary / main document / primary equation or variable
Old World / New World Perpetuates a colonial and Eurocentric view of the world that is offensive to the international community and indigenous peoples who lived in the region and contributed to scientific knowledge before European colonialism. the relevant location
rape Equates rape with a reproductive strategy rather than a violent and traumatic act, which can lead to dangerous misperceptions that are a natural behavior, and using the term forces survivors to confront it, which is traumatic. forced copulation
slave and/or master / slave-making ants / slavery Normalizes slavery and colonialism as a natural phenomenon in the wild, which, if harmful to cultures and people of color, is subject to these practices and does not accurately reflect animal behavior. host and parasite / ‘pirate’ ants / coercion
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