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Avoiding the Word "Evolution" 895

Posted by kdawson
from the can't-say-that-wait-two-years dept.
jakosc tips us to a disturbing article in PloS Biology on the avoidance of the word "Evolution" in scientific papers and grants. From the paper: "In spite of the importance of antimicrobial resistance, we show that the actual word 'evolution' is rarely used in the papers describing this research. Instead, antimicrobial resistance is said to 'emerge,' 'arise,' or 'spread' rather than 'evolve.' Moreover, we show that the failure to use the word 'evolution' by the scientific community may have a direct impact on the public perception of the importance of evolutionary biology in our everyday lives... It has been repeatedly rumored (and reiterated by one of the reviewers of this article) that both the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have in the past actively discouraged the use of the word 'evolution' in titles or abstracts of proposals so as to avoid controversy."
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Avoiding the Word "Evolution"

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  • by skinfitz (564041) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:50AM (#18164218) Journal
    This is what happens when you pander to religious fruit loops - it started with the 'In God We Trust' rebrand of the US (in particular, on money) which was the thin end of the wedge and now we have a situation whereby scientists cannot even discuss things properly.

    All the major organised religions seem to want is lots of uneducated children who think they are going to go to 'heaven' when they die.
    • by Joebert (946227) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:54AM (#18164240) Homepage
      In God we trust, all others pay cash.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        It's The Land of the Free(TM), as long as you don't mess with God(TM). Sad. I thought we had already passed the Dark Ages.
      • by h2g2bob (948006) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @07:46AM (#18165094) Homepage
        I'd like them to replace "In God we trust" from banknotes with "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle [wikisource.org]..."
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:04AM (#18166108)
          how about "in the flying spaghetti monster we trust"?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gillbates (106458)
          Perhaps that's why the phrase, "In God We Trust" was placed on money in the first place - to remind people to trust in God rather than money.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by impleri (982548)
            Nope. It was placed on coined currency around the time of the Civil War by the request of many Americans who found religious fervor. It became standard in 1938. Then in 1956 (Thanks, McCarthy), it became a motto of the USA. The US Treasury has a page [ustreas.gov] on it. Oh, and the scientific community's lack of usage of evolution is primarily because it's a general term. It's like using the word "Hinduism" when talking about the Vedic traditions that were precursors to modern Hinduism....or like using "science" to
            • by 1u3hr (530656) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @12:04PM (#18167574)
              the scientific community's lack of usage of evolution is primarily because it's a general term. It's like using...

              No. Did you RTFA? They discusss this point. The terms being used instead of "evolution" are no more technical, like "acquire", even "learn".

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              Then in 1956 (Thanks, McCarthy), it became a motto of the USA.

              Sorry

              "And this be out Motto: In God is our trust."
              National Anthem - Francis Scott Key 1814

              I believe the phrase is even older and Mr. Key just worked it into his poem.
          • by smooth wombat (796938) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:42AM (#18166532) Homepage Journal
            Perhaps that's why the phrase, "In God We Trust" was placed on money in the first place - to remind people to trust in God rather than money.


            No, it was put there by christian fundamentalists first during the Civil War on coins and then on paper money during the 50s to try and force the notion upon the nation that it was founded on christian principles (which it wasn't). Read and learn [ustreas.gov].

            Funny how the Founding Fathers, those bastions of christendom that the American Taliban likes to claim, overlooked putting those words on currency when they had the opportunity to do so, no?

            Also, as far as the Pledge of Allegiance is concerned, because we all know that will be your next comment, it was developed by a Baptist Minister so that all persons, regardless of their religious persuasion, could pledge their allegiance to both the flag and Republic in a neutral manner. For a more thorough discussion, see this [vineyard.net].

    • by Bob Gelumph (715872) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:59AM (#18164262)
      Hang on a second.
      The resistance does emerge or arise.
      It is the microbe population that evolves.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:00AM (#18164268)
      God is an acronym: Guns, oil, and drugs.
    • by Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (neyeatsonav.kirtap)> on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:16AM (#18164330) Journal
      The state and the Church have always been partners. The state keeps the people poor, the Church keeps them ignorant.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by c6gunner (950153)
        That was one of the stupidest things I've ever read on here. The fact that it got modded insightful proves that people don't need religion to keep them ignorant.
      • Untrue! The State runs our public education system, so it keeps people ignorant. The Church merely aids in the brainwashing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dbIII (701233)

      All the major organised religions seem to want is lots of uneducated children who think they are going to go to 'heaven' when they die.

      You are confusing the radical anti-intellectal groups that like to call themselves conservative with those groups that don't actually think God hates poor people and actually do charity work. Christianity-Lite does not like the few books at the front of the Bible that they actually read to be questioned in any way. I'm not religeous but I seem to recall reading that the C

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Could it be that the scientists are adapting (by changing their wording) in response to their environment (increased hostility to evolution)?

      Nah, simpler to assume there's some kind of invisible mastermind in the background planning it all.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:51AM (#18164222) Homepage
    Moreover, we show that the failure to use the word 'evolution' by the scientific community may have a direct impact on the public perception of the importance of evolutionary biology in our everyday lives

    The role of science is not to manage public perception. It's to find out how things work. Unfortunately, receipt of grant money is often tied to public perception (positive, or negative).
  • by nebaz (453974) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:52AM (#18164228)
    When I get in an argument with my creationist friends, no one disputes what they call 'micro evolution'. The idea that single cells can mutate to become resistant to bacteria, and those are the only ones that survive. Where people have trouble is with something they call 'macro evolution', that these mutations can over time create entirely new species, organs, and reproductive behavior (sexual vs asexual). I believe it because I think people don't understand exactly how many years we are considering here in the long haul. If the scientific community is not calling 'evolution' what most people agree actually takes place, how can they expect to be taken seriously on more controversial aspects of science?
    • by QuantumG (50515) *
      You should tell em that even if they don't believe that one species can evolve from another that, at least, God wants us to think that, otherwise He wouldn't have left all this great evidence around that they do.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by catbutt (469582)
      You should tell them that you are evolving to preferring to hang out with non-idiots.
    • by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @06:50AM (#18164830) Homepage Journal
      Your friends are being stupid, deliberately or not. There is no distinction in nature between microevolution and macroevolution. Macroevolution is just larger quantities of macroevolution over much longer times.

      It's like saying that there's "microwalking" which is what I do from the car park to the office every morning, and down to the shops on weekends, and that can result in changes of my location over time on a small scale; but the idea that people, over tens of thousands of years walked out of central Africa into Europe, then over to Asia, across to North America and into South America - that's "macrowalking" and it's impossible. God must have put them there.
      • by Theolojin (102108) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @08:54AM (#18165466) Homepage
        Your friends are being stupid, deliberately or not. There is no distinction in nature between microevolution and macroevolution. Macroevolution is just larger quantities of macroevolution over much longer times.

        There *is* a distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. In macroevolution, an organism gains new features, such as wings. In microevolution an organism gets stronger arms. This explains how it is possible for the Watusi of Burundi to have an average height of over six feet and the Mbuti in Congo (they live 100 miles or so apart) grow to an average height of four and a half feet or so. This is microevolution. This is the enhancement of certain characteristics that already exist within a single species. The Watusi and the Mbuti can marry and have children. Their children would likely vary greatly in their height (though they do not intermarry; they loathe one another). If the Watusi and Mbuti had experienced macroevolution, one tribe would have wings and the other would have venom and fangs.

        I understand the theory that lots of small changes over an incredibly long time period equals larger changes. In the above example, macroevolution teaches that stronger arms eventually become powerful wings. Microevolution acknowledges that stronger arms can become a dominant feature in a species. The genetic code, however, is not present for those arms to produce feathers.

        The difference between micro and macro is the former is the enhancement of features already present while the latter is the addition of features not formerly present.

        It's like saying that there's "microwalking" which is what I do from the car park to the office every morning, and down to the shops on weekends, and that can result in changes of my location over time on a small scale; but the idea that people, over tens of thousands of years walked out of central Africa into Europe, then over to Asia, across to North America and into South America - that's "macrowalking" and it's impossible. God must have put them there.

        The ability to walk is not a new feature. It is a present characteristic similar to my illustration of an organism developing stronger arms. It is merely an enhancement of an existing feature: the ability to walk farther. The ability to *fly* from Africa into Europe would be an example of macroevolution.
        • by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:03AM (#18166084) Homepage Journal
          There *is* a distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. The difference between micro and macro is the former is the enhancement of features already present while the latter is the addition of features not formerly present.

          A lizard has four limbs covered in keratinious growths. So does a bird. No new features there.
          The distinction is in your mind, not in nature. Evolution is all about gradual change in function, arms to wings by gradual change of shape.
        • In macroevolution, an organism gains new features, such as wings. In microevolution an organism gets stronger arms.

          What does the baby Jesus command you to call it when an organism gets stronger arms with a longer flap of skin on them that permits gradually improved gliding performance from trees? Is it "microevolution" until the mouse accidentally flaps his front legs and looks kind of like a bat, at which point it would be "macroevolution" and smote down as blasphemous by a jealous genocidal war-god?

          The w
  • Another word (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Quzak (1047922)
    Adapt. Kinda like how the borg say it.
  • by s1oan (992550) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:56AM (#18164256)
    Are we still in the middle ages? Can I say something about the Sun being on the center of the solar system without being totured till I accept that the Earth is the center of the whole universe? This is so sad...
    • by Joebert (946227)
      The earth actually could be the center of the universe.
      Just because a globe spins doesn't mean you can't hold the globe & spin the stand around it.
    • yes (Score:3, Funny)

      I've notified the proper authorities about your question. The Spanish Inquisition will be over shortly to discuse this matter with you. Feel free to inform them of your favorite methode of torture and any allergic reactions to leather whips or red-hot metal you might have.
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:20AM (#18164352) Homepage

    "antimicrobial resistance is said to 'emerge,' 'arise,' or 'spread' rather than 'evolve.' "

    Could this possibly have something to do with the fact that the latter terms are used when they are more scientifically accurate?

    If you're talking about antimicrobial resistance spreading, then it would be absolutely wrong to say that it was evolving: the bacteria has already evolved and the spread is just the increasing domination of that new line. If they have lumped all those words together than that alone could account for their conclusion by itself, although I would also argue that the other harms have certain preferable contexts for description.

    The reserachers did not bother to do any actual pyschological research in their psychological study: they only looked at frequency distributions of the terminology. Apparently this is enough to infer the motivations of the medical patois. I don't suppose it's even remotely possible that the simple fact that evolutionary biologists study evolution could explain the increased frequency of 'evolve' in their personal vernacular? Perhaps if medical scientists spent all of their time researching, reading about, and writing about evolution, the word "evolve" might be as much integrated into their writing.

    Regardless, it is absurd to suggest that incipient trends in word usage should in any way be a concern of either medical or evolutionary scientists. I might expect some outcry if people were being coerced (perhaps that is why there was no psychological investigation in this--not enough drama) but if you are going to throw a fit because a certain word isn't used as often as synonymns which say the same things but aren't as directly referential to your pet issue, I would say you are as much a culprit in politicizing science as any creationist school board.

    Rhetoric == politics. Research results are not changed by the linguistics of the writeups.

    • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @07:17AM (#18164978) Homepage
      "Evolution" does not mean only "first emergence", but is used for the entire process of having a population of organisms change over time as a result of mutations, sexual breeding, horisontal gene-transfer and increased reproductive success for the most fit of the organisms.

      Thus the spreading of "more desirable" characteristics is one of the core parts of evolution.

      It makes *perfect* sense to say, for example: In many hospitals there are strains of bacteria that have evolved antibiotics-resistance.

  • A Tough Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spoonboy42 (146048) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:21AM (#18164358)

    This same issue came up on a recent episode of NPR's Science Friday [sciencefriday.com] (look towards the right side of the page for an mp3 download link). Essentially, biologists were being encouraged by well-meaning people at the government agencies who sponsor them to avoid the word "evolution" so that their research remains uncontroversial and doesn't run afoul of any anti-science policy makers.

    This latest article raises a good point, though. By trying to cloak discussion of evolution in other terms, anyone with a grasp of basic evolutionary biology is able to understand what is meant and how the process of natural selection applies to the problem at hand. Politicians and non-scientific observers not familiar with biology, however, don't see that evolution is explicitly referenced and so they don't raise a ruckus over it.

    The problem is that this can help feed the general lack of understanding about evolution that creationists exploit. On the one hand, because most schools don't teach a rigorous curriculum on evolutionary biology, creationists can argue pseudo-scientific fallacies (e.g. that the second law of thermodynamics rules out evolution of increasingly complex species. Incidentally, this is false because the second law only applies to closed systems, and Earth's ecosystem continuously receives new energy from the Sun's light and heat). Additionally, because the fact that natural selection, as the basic organizing principle which has guided research in biology for over a century, isn't emphasized in new research reports that come out, many people don't realize that the huge advances we've made in our understanding of life on Earth over the past century, and the great medical breakthroughs that have emerged, nay, evolved from that understanding would not have been possible if we didn't understand evolution. Indeed, many things that we know to be true about biology simply couldn't be true if evolution weren't at work. That's not to say that it's a perfect theory, but like many good scientific theories it is revised and its precision is sharpened as new evidence becomes available (for example, we now know about cycles of punctuated equilibrium in the fossil record, and about patterns in human and other animal genomes, which Darwin didn't know about), in the same way that Einstein's relativity built on and refined Newton's laws of motion.

    As loathe as many scientists are to do anything with public relations, I think that we have to do a better job of emphasizing the basic scientific theories behind today's research. So I encourage researchers out there to not be scared of using the word evolution, as it will hopefully contribute to people understanding that it is pervasively important to biology.

  • by Ka D'Argo (857749)
    Not to get into specifics but I live in the south eastern part of the US, basically the "bible belt". I myself, am not really religious. Never been to a church, never read more than a couple pages of "the Bible" etc And ironically enough going through grade school, junior high and high school we never had a problem with any teacher actually teaching evolution. At least, I never heard of any complaints from other students or heard of anyone's parents complaining about it. You'd think there'd be more uproar,
  • Storks! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jugalator (259273) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:43AM (#18164474) Journal
    "If we are going to teach creation science as an alternative to evolution, then we should also teach the stork theory as an alternative to biological reproduction." -- Judith Hayese [celebatheists.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by L4m3rthanyou (1015323)
      Let's not forget the alternative creation theory of the Flying Spaghetti Monster [venganza.org] ;)
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by khallow (566160)
        I'm sorry but the Flying Spaghetti Monster is so dated. Sure he'll have a place in the classroom pantheon alongside J. R. "Bob" Dobbs and Jesus, but we need a new religious inspiration. I think some sort of fungal shamanism for now. It'll help me get in touch with the spiritual side of my fridge.
  • by Punto (100573) <puntob.gmail@com> on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @06:05AM (#18164596) Homepage
    As far as I know, things don't usually evolve right in front of our eyes. Sometimes, the strains that already existed (and which took millons of years to evolve) become dominant for whatever reason. I assume that's where you use "emerge".
  • by Hektor_Troy (262592) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @06:27AM (#18164716)
    I don't mean crusade/jihad or anything that bad, just that science vs religion won't ever work.

    BUT - if we somehow manage to get an islamic movement to try to ban teaching the ideas of evolution as being against the teachings of the prophet Mohammed and thus the word of Allah, then I'm pretty sure we'd see these religious wack jobs get off their pedistals mighty quick.

    Can't try to promote something that those "awful muslims" promote, can we?

    In fact - next time friends, relatives or people you meet bring up the idea of not teaching evolution in schools, just add in "oh, you mean like the Taleban? They didn't want schools teaching evolution either."

    Playing the "terrorism" card for a GOOD cause for once!
  • Not only biology! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Conor (2745) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @06:28AM (#18164720)
    I am an astrophysicist, and I've heard stories of scientists being encouraged to avoid the term 'stellar evolution', which refers to the life cycle of stars, as this has attracted protests from religious fanatics in the USA. It seems any mention of the word 'evolution' in a scientific context is bound to attract unwanted attention.


      On the other hand, the religious nutters do have a point (if completely unwittingly), since it modern astrophysics contradicts the bible version of creation just has much as modern biology does!

  • Flock of Dodos (Score:3, Informative)

    by jalefkowit (101585) <jason@jasonlefko ... net minus distro> on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @10:38AM (#18166476) Homepage

    There's an excellent documentary on the evolution vs. intelligent design wars called "Flock of Dodos [flockofdodos.com]" that covers this very issue -- there's actually a scene with a bunch of leading evolutionary scientists sitting around a poker table, lamenting that they have to avoid using the word "evolution" in their NSF grant proposals if they want to keep their grants. If you haven't seen it, and you're interested in this issue, you should definitely track down a screening in your area.

    (Full disclosure: I know the guy who made the movie and am a big fan of his work teaching communications skills to scientists. If you want a second opinion on the movie, here's a New York Times article about it [flockofdodos.com].)

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