A NEW research paper calls for the phasing out of binary terms such as "male", "female", "mother", "father" and a host of other words that it brands “harmful” in scientific fields, to make way for "inclusive" terminology.

What’s going on?

The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Language Project, founded by scientists in the United States "to create a platform for compiling resources and bringing together scientists to understand the impact language can have on inclusion”, has penned a new paper that declares “much of western science is rooted in colonialism, white supremacy and patriarchy” which continues "to permeate our scientific culture”. It advises that to "address this history", “harmful" scientific terms should be replaced to “foster inclusion”

Harmful terms such as…?

The group is calling on the scientific field to use alternatives to words such as "male" and "female", "mother" and "father", replacing them with "sperm-producing" and "egg-producing" for male and female, while "parent", "egg donor" and "sperm donor" should be used for the other terms.

Anything else?

The University of British Columbia, whose scientists are involved in the project, say it boils down to a "reevaluation of some terminology”, saying terms like “fitness” are not only harmful to some people—in an ableist context—but also vague. 

Words in the firing line?

“Optimisation” can be “misleading”, apparently, as it “perpetuates the idea that a species is evolving towards a defined permanent optimum, when there is no true species-wide optimisation.” To use the expression "blind" is not advised as it is a "disability metaphor” and “awareness” ought to be referenced instead, while "feminised" implies "that feminine and masculine are biological traits rather than social constructs".

Other "harmful terms" are…?

"Man/woman" which are described as "highly anthropomorphic" while the expression "survival of the fittest" evokes "eugenics, ableism and social Darwinism" and should be replaced with references to "natural selection."

Dr Kaitlyn Gaynor, an author on the paper, said: “The project started as a Twitter conversation among a few people discussing potentially harmful terminology. It was important for us to think through one tractable approach that people can take in their work at an individual level...to make thoughtful choices moving forward."


British scientist, Professor Richard Dawkins, told The Telegraph the "only possible response" to the advice is "contemptuous ridicule", adding that he "shall continue to use every one of the prohibited words."