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Inclusive science: ditch insensitive terminology

University of Antwerp, Wilrijk, Belgium.
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University of Queensland, Saint Lucia, Australia.

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Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

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To increase inclusivity in science, we should avoid long-held descriptors for non-human organisms that could cause offence to some sectors of society. The explosion in citizen science and in science blogs ensures that the continued use of such terminology will come to the attention of people who find it hurtful.

One example is the expression ‘she-male’, long used to describe female mimicry by male garter snakes (R. Shine et al. Nature 414, 267; 2001). Another is ‘sneaky mating strategy’ (see, for example, G. A. Parker Proc. R. Soc. B 242, 127–133; 1990), which could be misinterpreted as endorsing conventional sex roles. And scientists continue to refer to ‘dwarf’ males in behavioural ecology (F. Vollrath Trends Ecol. Evol. 13, 159–163; 1998), long after society in general abandoned the word as derogatory.

Language evolves, so terms applied in one situation can acquire different connotations over time. Moreover, attitudes are shaped by language, which itself can shape data interpretation (see, for example, J. D. Monk et al. Nature Ecol. Evol. 3, 1622–1631; 2019).

Nature 580, 185 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-01034-z

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