Scientist will 'use every one of harmful words' academics want rid of

Scientist Richard Dawkins says he will ‘use every one of the harmful words’ like ‘blind, gender and fitness’ that academics want phased out because they are ‘harmful’

  • The scientist, 81, has slammed article written by three academics yesterday
  • Article calls for words such as male, female, man and woman to be scrapped

Acclaimed British biologist Richard Dawkins says he will continue to use ‘every one of the prohibited words’ amid calls in the scientific community to ban ‘harmful’ gendered terms.

The British author and scientist, 81, has slammed a project led by three academics saying words such as male, female, man, woman, mother and father should be scrapped.

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 – yesterday published a list of 24 ‘harmful terms’.

Instead, they recommend terms such as ‘sperm-producing’ and ‘egg-producing’ or ‘XY/XX individual’ should be used to avoid reinforcing ‘societally-imposed ideas of a sex binary’. 

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

The British author and scientist, 81, has slammed calls from academics for words such as male, female, man, woman, mother and father to be scrapped

Speaking to the newspaper, he said: ‘The only possible response is contemptuous ridicule. 

‘I shall continue to use every one of the prohibited words. I am a professional user of the English language. It is my native language.

Read more: Replace female with ‘egg-producing’ and avoid using the term ‘fitness’, woke scientists say in push to get rid of ‘harmful’ phrases

‘I am not going to be told by some teenage version of Mrs Grundy which words of my native language I may or may not use.’

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

They argue that ‘egg producing’ and sperm producing’ are not gender-neutral, and are instead simply synonyms for male and female.

Professor Frank Furedi, an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent, added: ‘I think that when you characterise terms like male/female, mother/father as harmful you are abandoning science for ideological advocacy.

‘Regardless of intent, the project of re-engineering language will cause confusion to many and the last thing that scientists need is a lack of clarity about the meaning of the words they use.’

The EEB Language Project was launched this month by a team that includes Dr Kaitlyn Gaynor, Dr Alex Moore and Dr Danielle Ignace — three University of British Columbia researchers.

It comes amid a broader push for language to be changed to be less offensive, with doctors last summer claiming the term ‘morbidly obese’ should be ditched.

Writing in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, researchers said efforts to ‘champion inclusive language’ in science is ‘particularly important for redressing the ongoing marginalization of many groups’.

As well as male and female, the words mother and father are criticised for perpetuating a ‘a non-universal’ view of ‘the parenting and birthing process’.

Atheist, ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer Richard Dawkins talks to a full house at the Hay Festival in 2014

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

It also flags ‘survival of the fittest’ as a problematic term that promotes ‘Eugenics, ablelism, and social Darwinism’.

Instead, ‘natural selection’ or ‘survival differences’ should be used, it states.

Even the term ‘double-blind’, which is used to describe studies where neither volunteers or scientists know which participants are taking a drug or a placebo, could be harmful to people with disabilities, the website states.

Writing in the journal, the researchers said: ‘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.’

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

 The American Humanist Association (AHA) revoked its honour from the evolutionary biologist, 80, after he appeared to question whether people could choose their gender.

The move came 25 years after the evolutionary biologist received the honour for his ‘significant contributions’ as a science communicator.

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