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Sydney Watson shuts down inclusive language researchers

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Conservative commentator Sydney Watson has caused a stir after arguing the use of inclusive language for typically gendered labels was “dehumanising”.

A group of researchers from the US and Canada suggested alternatives to terms like “male” and “female” and “mother” and “father” should be used in science because they assumed sex was binary and heterosexuality the norm.

The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Language Project said “male” and “female” should be replaced by “sperm-producing” and “egg-producing” respectively.

Sydney Watson, an Australian-American political commentator, responded to the news in a tweet on Thursday, arguing against gender being a spectrum.

“New dehumanising term for women just dropped,” she wrote alongside an image of an article with the headline: “Use ‘egg-producing’ not ‘female’, say scientists in call to phase out binary language.”

In another tweet, she suggested men would be referred to as “non egg producing”.

“The hilarious thing about this is that in order to discuss men, they’d have to say ‘non-egg-producing’. It’s almost like sex is … binary,” she wrote.

The researchers said father and mother should be labelled “parent”, “egg donor” and “sperm donor” in the scientific field.

The group has called on the scientific field to use words that are more “inclusive and precise”, according to a press release from the University of British Columbia (UBC), which has three researchers in the initiative.

“Much of Western science is rooted in colonialism, white supremacy and patriarchy, and these power structures continue to permeate our scientific culture,” some project members wrote in the Trends in Ecology and Evolution journal.

UBC assistant professor Dr Kaitlyn Gaynor said the undertaking began from a Twitter conversation among a few people about terminology that is potentially harmful.

“We reached out to different networks in ecology and evolution that were focused on increasing inclusion and equity in the field to rally support for one very specific action — revising terminology that might be harmful to certain people, particularly those from groups historically and currently excluded from science,” she said, according to the press release.

The group’s website lists its top 24 “harmful terms,” a crowdsourced repository identified by community members, with possible alternatives.

For example, “primitive” and “advanced” are problematic because they are used “derogatorily towards humans or human practices, and also scientifically inaccurate as implies an evolutionary hierarchy.” EEB suggests “ancestral” or “derived” instead.

“Survival of the fittest” could be linked to “eugenics, ableism and social Darwinism”, researchers said, so they advise using “natural selection” and “survival differences” instead.

Even “citizen science” is troublesome because it could be “harmful to non-citizens,” so the EEB Language Project urged using “participant science or community science.”

The EEB Language Project aims to be a “living document,” said Dr. Danielle Ignace of UBC.

“[P]articular words that are harmful and their alternatives can change over time,” she said.

“People can submit their suggestions online and have their voices heard. They can also get more involved as an individual, as an institution or at the community level. The hope is that this grassroots effort brings people together.”

— With New York Post

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