Before fringe groups and weird haters hide behind the label of “science,” they really ought to more aware of what many scientists are actually saying, because they’re far more “woke” than you know. For instance, there is a strong movement within ecology and evolutionary biology to consciously revisit the history and assumptions of the discipline, with the EEB Language Project working to make the terminology more inclusive and recognize the biases in our history. This is a good thing, although some of the more senior members of the field will no doubt squawk about it. Too bad.
The group has just published a paper, “Championing inclusive terminology in ecology and evolution” that I’m filing away to use in the ecological developmental biology course I’ll be teaching in spring of 2024.
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. 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. Here, we discuss one crucial way to address this history and make EEB more inclusive for marginalized communities: our choice of scientific terminology.
We provide background on how terminology influences inclusion in EEB, describe existing community-based initiatives and our new grassroots effort to champion inclusive language in EEB, and offer guiding questions and considerations for readers committed to using inclusive scientific terminology. This effort is particularly important for redressing the ongoing marginalization of many groups in EEB, including Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) communities; and disabled communities; among others. This work is motivated by the collective experiences, perspectives, and knowledges of our author group. 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. Nevertheless, we propose that inclusion can be fostered by a collective commitment to be more conscientious and intentional about the scientific terminology we use when teaching, mentoring, collaborating, and conducting research.
This affects me, believe it or not. Just last week I was asked whether the spiders I study are an “invasive species.” I was brought up short — I’ve never thought of them that way, even though they are of Eurasian origin. “Invasive” carries an aggressive, dangerous, bad meaning to it, and on the fly all I could say is that they’re no more invasive than human beings, which is kind of damning if you think about it, and that as a synanthropic species house spiders just follow along and occupy the habitat we provide for them. I had found myself made uncomfortable by the implications of the accepted language we use to describe them! This is something other people have been aware of long before I was.
One way that terminology can negatively impact EEB is by creating environments in which students and researchers experience microaggressions, which are incidents that can adversely affect individuals from marginalized groups by perpetuating stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes. 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?’ Similarly, herpetologist Dr Earyn McGee describes how removing terminology that references historical racial violence against Black people can help create disciplinary environments that feel less exclusionary.
Now I’m wondering what other terminology I take for granted has disturbing implications. I welcome the opportunity to get educated.
By the way, “synanthropic” is a really good word — it just means that they are undomesticated animals that live together with us humans. People live in the company of a small collection of wild, naturally associated animals, like pigeons and raccoons and mice and innumerable small arthropods that find our homes and barns and garbage dumps totally copacetic. I like the fact that it generally lacks any pejorative sense, and prefer to think of it as a statement that there are animals that really like us and prefer our company.
“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?’”
Surely the relevant difference is that invasive species reduce ecosystem diversity, by driving out indigenous species, whereas immigrants increase diversity.
Ah, I’m the one who asked if the Asiatic spider was invasive on Patreon. I’d not considered the implications of “invasive” either, just going along with news reports on species displacing other species and not having a predator that limits the population so there is an explosive growth of them. Which is exactly what the anti-immigration people claim about immigrants.
Of course, immigrants aren’t another species and don’t displace other people (especially in a country where without immigrants we would have negative population growth).
But I’m all for using different terminology. I like synanthropic for undomesticated animals living in synchronicity with humans (but not in symbiosis?). Is there a better term for the species that were introduced to an environment that aren’t in synchronicity and are changing the local environment in a detrimental way to existing species?
PZ Myers says
I think there can be a tendency toward overcorrection. “Invasive” captures the noxious qualities of organisms such as pythons in south Florida or Brazilian pepper in Florida quite well. There may be tag along organisms living in our homes that are less noxious.
It makes sense to me, as a layman, although I vaguely resent being made to think so much on a Monday morning without enough coffee in me.
I’ve always kind of made a distinction, though, between species that expand their range through random accidents (i.e. lizards rafting ashore from another island, birds being blown off course) and species that humans deliberately introduced (like nutria brought here for their fur only to be released when it turned out no one wanted nutria hats, or fish being tossed into a lake so fishermen can catch them). Sort of like how I can understand that species have gone extinct all through history through natural processes while at the same time hating it when human carelessness and greed results in species loss.
OT: this autosuggestion stuff when I type is getting ridiculous. “Lizards rafting ashore from another” results in the suggested next word planet, and “birds” gave the suggestion swimming.
Are spiders an invasive species? Was Teleoceras an invasive species? Was Smilodon an invasive species?
There are two ways species end up in an ecosystem in which they’d be considered invasive(ish).
Natural migration, be it accidental, such as driven by storm winds or expansion of territory into novel regions.
Translocation by human trade, traffic and migration, either intentionally or unintentionally. We’ve carried all manner of critter and plant all over the planet, disrupting ecologies as we’ve gone intentionally, rabbits infamously come to mind, we’ve done so with assorted plants and animals accidentally, such as with some mussels that are wreaking havoc in our waters as we speak.
So, if an organism ends up in a novel environment by natural movement, is it still invasive and should we have a term that distinguishes natural movement to a novel environment vs artificial movement by human intervention?
BTW, synanthropic is what follows along inside of our environmental bubble, what is the term for unintentionally carried organisms, such as Zebra mussels in North American Great Lakes?
Well, other than Whoopsie…
Oregon’s wildlife people are interested in reducing the footprint that non-native species have, though they are carefully not addressing the footprint humans have, even as we’re non-native as all fuck and have the footprint to match. I understand worrying about non-native species crowding out the native species – we have a running battle with the Armenian blackberry. But the blackberry wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for us humans, and it wouldn’t have a niche – it needs full sunlight, and it’s human activity that creates the scars in the PNW rainforest where the plant can thrive. It is more synanthropic than we recognize, I think.
I think “invasive species” is a perfectly good term för species that cause harm in their new environment.
Maybe we need a special term för non-native species that do little harm, like those camel herds in Australia (they are easy to control, unlike rabbits).
And yet another term for beneficial new species, like the Alaskan lupins that have been introduced to the central subarctic desert of Iceland to fixate nitrogen and make the soil fertile, speeding uo the natural process by millennia.
I am told biologists have been searching for crabs that consume invasive wossname, those star-like critters that can devastate coral reefs if they reproduce without natural enemies. Finding a predator that only target the intended species is complicated but important.
And if MAGA rednecks continue to drive old gas-guzzling trucks just to trigger liberals and vote for climate disaster I am.all for introducing the odd yautja in red state territory.
Felis catus is somewhere between “domesticated” and “synanthropic”. Just look at the feral cats of Istanbul.
Up here in Sweden hedgehogs are welcome guests despite not being synanthropic in the described sense, people just leave food out for them because a farm sort of should have a hedgehog family visiting in the evening.
PZ Myers says
If you read the article, the point they are making is that applying a term like “invasive” to a species is not particularly helpful. There’s such a wide range from harmless spiders that no one even notices are invasive, to pythons that can eat small deer and children. The focus should be on referring to the properties of the species that are causing problems.
If we are talking veterinary science, there are now two carefully formulated vegan diets for dogs.
(Do not try this on cats – they are obligate carnivores as their bodies cannot produce the essential substance taurin, only found in meat)
OT: More children killed in their classroom in Nashville.
Getting back to “science”.
I mentioned this on the previous thread, some congressmen know neither geography nor technology.
“Skepticrat 196 TicToccam’s Razor Edition”
-do they have butlers tying their goddamn shoelaces for them?
I’ve long been uncomfortable with negative connotations of the term ‘invasive’ as in invasive species. It assumes a kind of unsupported essentialism that native species are superior to species from afar. The biological truth is that evolution happens, biota travel and speciate and go extinct all the time, and if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. There are other reasons for getting rid of certain plant in your garden, such as it is pushing out the flowers you want there, that have nothing to do with how long the ‘invasive’ plant has been in the neighborhood.
Pierce R. Butler says
… “synanthropic” is a really good word …
Wait ’til the sinophobes get a hold of it!
Some idiot(s) in Idaho (should be: I Don’t Know!?) is confused about anatomy. He talks about tampons and bladders. WTF
All across the northern US we were under the ice sheets a short time ago, and many times before that. The same general set of plants and animals migrate in during each interglacial. If something appears that wasn’t here in the last interglacial, is it invasive, or just another migrant like everything else here. We tend to think of foxgloves as native, because they fit right in, but they are just a latecomer. I have no good vocabulary for my native region.
@16 Pierce R. Butler – using duckduckgo is a sign of intelligence and responsibility. I applaud you for not using the G00GLE spyware engine.
Walter Solomon says
Off topic, but there’s been another school shooting in the good ‘ol US of A.
We should applaud the Burmese and other pythons that escaped an enclosure after it was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew, the encroachment on waterways by hyacinth, the spread of Schinus terebinthifolia (don’t want to get too fixed on the place named in the common name due to sensitivity stuff) or Osteopilus septentrionalis (same problem with common name) because essentialism. Let it rip because inevitability of evolution, species already in place be damned. Wild hogs are a blessing not a curse. That’s a value judgment.
As for extinction let’s eliminate that essentialist Endangered Species Act and watch sea turtles, manatees, and indigo snakes go to the wall. They won’t evolve again due to contingency but screw ‘em.
bcw bcw says
It seems the word “invasive” refers only to species introduced to a new environment by humans. Perhaps it should gain the requirement that to be called that it must be measurably displacing native species?
OT but this crap reminds me H sapiens is the ultimate harmful invasive species.
We emulate bad science fiction.
“Saudi Arabia’s Mukaab is a dystopian nightmare”.
Oh FFS, of course all “invasive species” are threats to ecosystems, no matter how small and “harmless” they seem to be on casual observation. I am horrified that it is now being suggested that they are ignored in some truly bizarre example of political correctness because, um, humans might be offended by being “exoticised” as immigrants.
David C Brayton says
I really appreciate your uncomfortable moment when you realized spiders are an invasive species. That moment of “Aha!” when you can feel a change, when your perspective or viewpoint shifts, is wonderful. It may be uncomfortable but it is incredible to suddenly realize that you are now smarter than you were just ten minutes ago.
Now that I am in my mid-50s, such moments are rare. (Thankfully,…people rely on my legal analysis and recommended solutions to their problems.) But they are just as satisfying.
Ask the people on Christmas Island about those tiny ants that were introduced…
chigau (違う) says
Are honey bees invasive species?
It’s worse than that. Some gardeners or yard keepers prefer native plants over exotic ornamentals. That’s nativism if anything is. After invasive species terminology is settled we should go after the bigoted native plant societies. What justification have they? Extensions used to promote noxious ornamentals (and DDT) but that’s beside the point. Native plants should no longer be called that or promoted as suspect value judgments are involved. Native plant people are red hatted MAGA xenophobes in disguise.
Of course at the root wildlife management and conservation are nonhuman eugenics and so are suspect. These fields were locked at the hip with eugenics from the get-go. Any decision on what species is preferred (or preserved) is a mere suspect value judgment. Pet tortoises and wild gopher tortoises are the same. Put pet tortoises into the wild and solve the problem with tortoise numbers declining.
The Florida panther is a highly inbred subspecies of cougar. I recall something about breeding them with Texas cougars to help them rebound. Any concern as to what that does to their genetic makeup goes out the window. Why not just release mountain lions galore and solve the problem instead of engaging the sorites issue of what is a pure Florida panther. I guess that recalls miscegenation talk too much. Why not just have various subspecies freely mixed regardless of potential local adaptations if any. Next they will let Canadian garter snakes mingle with those in Florida. Why not?
Well, let’s get rid of all potentially invasive species. Dust the entire planet with cobalt-60 and call it a job well done.
We’re pretty much doing that anyway.
More seriously, I’m with PZ to an extent. How the term is used can be telling and it’s beyond non-specific. Science uses specific terms to define specific things in specific ways.
Still, invasive? Are fire ants invasive? Sit near one of their ant hills and let me know. ;)
Although, I suspect that those ants have their own opinions as to who and what is invasive to them, not being scientists, it’s all very subjective, rather than objective.
WMDKitty -- Survivor says
Oh, humans are the worst invasive species on the planet! There’s no continent we’ve left untouched…
That is not what is happening here. The point is that ‘invasive’ as a term has been used too broadly to describe any imported species that does well in a new environment regardless of level of harm to local ecosystems, and retiring the term for something more appropriate is not the same thing as ignoring the problem.
Case in point: I once spoke to a national park ranger who surprised me by saying he had changed his mind on lantana — widely regarded as one of the worst invasive weeds in Australia because it takes over large areas in a tangle of poisonous leaves and branches that stock animals can’t eat — but he said that after years of participating in lantana eradication in the national parks, he had come around because he noticed that they helped stabilise hillsides from erosion and, by being poisonous to farm animals, reduced encroachment from neighbouring farms, while providing a safe environment for small birds and mammals.
@32 Yeah, nah.
@32, yeah, barrier plants can be useful, if the local life learns to leave poisonous forms alone. The trick is to figure out in advance such things, not introduce things randomly, fouling up everything as you blunder along and call all a win over one thing.
@8. birgerjohansson :
Erm, actually, no.
Source : https://bdhsterling.com/getting-the-hump-australias-problem-with-feral-camels/
Crown of Thorns starfish (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown-of-thorns_starfish ) I think you’re thinking of here?
Wiki’s : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predator_(fictional_species)
Ah. Yup. Tempting prospect! ;-)
Think David Brin suggested in one novel (Earth?) a semi-seriou s group saying humans needed a natural predator to keep us in check
@5. feralboy12 : “OT: this autosuggestion stuff when I type is getting ridiculous. “Lizards rafting ashore from another” results in the suggested next word planet, and “birds” gave the suggestion swimming.”
Well, there are Penguins plus Cormorants, ducks other diving birds and maybe your autocorrect believes in the mythical Reptilian aliens although hardly think you can describe FTL or Relativistic or really any instellar starships as “rafts”..
StevoR @ 35
Thanks for the clarification.
Could you and a few friends come to Florida and retrieve all the Australian pine? Thanks.
I don’t want to say it has invaded as that would be wrong, but it does nasty stuff. It’s duff engages in chemical warfare.
“Casuarina equisetifolia leaf litter suppresses germination of understory plants using a biochemical means or allelopathy. This is one reason it can be such a damaging invasive species in places outside its native range.”
While you’re at it maybe keep AC/DC within borders too or teach them to vary their chords and experiment with varied time signatures. Or blame Scotland.
Speaking of Australia, I am impressed by the many poisonous plants there. I have heard of the snakes and spiders, but plants?
I have forgotten what it is called but there is a plant – a kind of shrub, I think – that can induce unimaginable pain for days. Fortunately, it does not seem to be able to spread rapidly.
As a barrier, this will be more feasible than crocodile-filled moats.
Breed a temperate climate variant and plant it along the Ukrainan border.
@20 Apparently that is fine though – at least as implied by a recent USA Today article title (I didn’t bother reading the stupid article), which states, “More children are shot at home, by people that know them, than in schools.” Kind of reminds me of the insane comment on not preventing domestic abusers from having guns because that would disarm cops. Because, we all know that the first damn thing passed after, or possibly AS part of the same bill, wouldn’t be an exception for, “on duty police and/or other government officials”.
@ ^ birgerjohansson : The Gympie-Gympie (Dendrocnide moroides) probly? See :
Not sure a temperate form exists or could be bred but as bioweapons go, yeah, not the worst idea.
@35. hemidactylus : “Could you and a few friends come to Florida and retrieve all the Australian pine? Thanks.”
Calitris species I presume?
There’s a lot of bushcare groups removing introduced invasive woody weed & grass & fynbos / Mediterranean species at least in Sth Oz. Mostly South African and European rather than North American but, hey, we have our hands very full sadly. I have heard our species have become invasive elsewhere too. Tim Lowe has a few things to say in his book here :
As for AC/DC or akkadakka, well, as music goes there’s sure a lot worse that’s invaded our Aussie airwaves over the years.. Subjective natch.
I’ve just checked. Yautja are in season and are extra tasty this year.
I recommend tanglefoot traps. Once you escape the trap, you can advance on the Yautja. Gotta even the playing field somehow…
StevoR @ 40
Yes! The gympie gympie seems like something that belongs in Dr Who.
That’s OK, now the XXXtians want anything to do with rainbows banned. So, I guess that rainbow sent to Noah was a fuckup or maybe rain falsely stopped by the devil or something.
Even a Dolly Parton song with the word rainbow is evil to them. Guess next, they’ll nuke rainbows after storms.
Fuckers have gone batshit crazy!
Batshit crazy? Now they’re targeting planet names 🤦🏾♀️