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This Wikipedia article on Master/Slave as defined in technology also include the following:

In 2003, the County of Los Angeles in California asked that manufacturers, suppliers and contractors stop using "master" and "slave" terminology on products; the county made this request "based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County".

To me this looks like political correctness ("used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society") applied to scientific terms.

I am wondering if this is an isolated case or it has become more frequent in the last decades in US.

Question: Is political correctness applied to science terms something usual in the US?

Important note: this question is not about whether political correctness should be applied in science or not (which is very debatable). I am just interested if this is something rather exceptional or not in the US. This is particularly interesting for me, because where I live this is something unheard of (actually most scientific terms are directly borrowed from English).

  • I faintly remember something about "Black Holes", but my memory is blurry, and I have no idea whether that was a sensationalized article about an isolated incident or even real at all. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 1 at 16:45
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  • Note that while the term "political correctness" has "political" in its name, it's not really a political topic per-se. What terminology to use for what (non-political) concept is a question about sociology, linguistics and academia. I am leaving the question open because it specifically uses a county government as example, but I would like to remind anyone wanting to write an answer to focus on those aspects which actually are relevant to politics and political processes. – Philipp Sep 2 at 11:28
  • @Philipp - yes, but the County of Los Angeles in California recommending to some private companies to change some labels sounds quite related to politics. The related Academia question is way more interesting, I admit. – Alexei Sep 2 at 11:31
  • @Philipp This is very 'political'. The problem with likely As is here that the Q is specifically asking "usual thing", ie quantification, not opinion. As without refs that do quantify (and probably define/explain beforehand) are automatically partial? – LangLangC Sep 2 at 11:44
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It sometimes happens with hot button topics. See for instance race, where terms such as "negro" or "mulatto" went into disuse in scientific publications and public discourse. Or in climate science, where you find terms like climate change, global warming, climate crisis, or global heating -- the choice of words matters.

There is also a hilarious episode that involved lawmakers rather than changing public attitudes: the Indiana Pi Bill. In 1897 the Indiana House of Representives passed a bill written by a crank that effectively set Pi's value to 3.2 and the square root of 2's value to 10/7. (The bill failed in the Senate.)

Not related to political correctness either, but interesting regardless, California's Proposition 65 might also catch your interest. It requires to warning consumers over the flimsiest cancer risks, and made some headlines a few months ago over coffee.

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    Indiana Pi Bill is a particularly funny and interesting example. – Alexei Sep 1 at 15:07
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    "Political correctness" is a mischaracterization of the first paragraph. Rather, what you've described there is a situation where terms that were invented to dehumanize and pathologize particular groups of people have been largely acknowledged as such, to the point where their continued use is a political statement in support of their original purpose. – R.. Sep 1 at 22:55
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    @R..: No quibbles. The nature of "political correctness", in its pejorative connotation brought forward by conservatives anyway, more or less encapsulates what you've written. The link in the first paragraph's last sentence hopefully gets this point across in a more positive manner. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 2 at 1:07
  • That 'choice of word matters' as applied to 'climate change' is quite a terrible phenomenon. People need to be educated, start to think about limits of knowledge, epistemology, probabilities, error margins,complexities, uncertainties etc But Guardian 'style' or 'tips for scientists to communicate effectively to politicians' just acknowledge that almost all people are idiots and still need spoon fed spin to behave right. In the public debate nobody talks scientifically, everybody demands a b/w picture to reinforce preconceptions that enable jumps to conclusions to favour their constituency. – LangLangC Sep 2 at 11:26
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    @R.. "Negro" was not invented to dehumanize or pathologize a group any more than "black" was. They are, of course, the same word, and their relative offensiveness has changed over the years. Certainly both have been used to do that, but they were not invented to do so--they describe an obviously visible trait. – eyeballfrog Sep 3 at 3:50
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Unfortunately it is all too common. For example, universities are removing portraits of top doctors, scientists, and Nobel Prize winners of the past. The reason? Too many white guys. While this is just applied to science generally, here are some scientific terms or phrases that do apply:

  • Gender is a social construct
  • Female circumcision instead of genital mutilation
  • Climate Change, instead of global warming
  • Climate deniers
  • Naming of Hurricanes
  • IQ is not genetic, and tests are culturally biased and don't prove anything

While the terms maybe incidental, they are indicative of the perversity and politicization of science and the resulting real damage to free and fair inquiry, not to mention the peer pressure and call to action of activist scientists who allow their beliefs, desires for fame, or pats on the head from virtue signalling to corrupt their research.

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    While I do not have to agree what the first para says, I somehow can follow its reasoning and deduce what is said. However, your examples in the list stand isolated and remain incomprehensible standing alone. You seem to assume that these signals constitute enough explanation to form an argument. But 'What is what' might benefit from contextualisation and explication? With supporting refs, preferably. – LangLangC Sep 2 at 9:15
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    @LangLangC the last guy who explained phenotypes to this crowd had his answer deleted, and threats of banning. I will take a pass – K Dog Sep 2 at 10:01
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    I fail to see how this answers the question. Climate change for instance is the broader term; it includes warming, changes to rainfall patterns, more frequent hurricanes, etcetera. That's not political correctness (what this question is about), but just ordinary correctness. OTOH, "female circumcision" is just one of the two forms of genital mutilation, so that's a narrower term. – MSalters Sep 2 at 10:49
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    @MSalters "Climate change" is the broader term, but semantically the term is not only warming, but also about cooling, or 'not changing' ;). But that makes this list so difficult to parse: are terms on the left 'the old ones', 'the better/morea accurate' to be substituted by those on the right for PC reasons? Or vice versa? And in any case: purportedly why? In any case, I just don't get what this list means or how it should/could be read. – LangLangC Sep 2 at 10:56
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Yes idiosyncratic usage advocacy, (whether politically correct, scientific, religious, or propagandistic), is not unusual in the US, but no, it's rarely applied and most often common sense eventually prevails.

Most such articles boil down to the opinions of some outspoken dissenter, who tends to be articulate but unpopular. Popular journalism is the cause: journalists need filler stories, and dissenters crave publicity. Typically such a story about language reform would be reported not because it's important, (i.e. the proposed reform is not well-founded and has few adherents), but because it's a slow news day. Language reformers horrify readers in almost the same way stories of murder do, though readers interested in murder write fewer letters to the editor.

Few journalists and editors are honest enough to warn readers in advance that it's a slow news day, and so the public sometimes greatly overrates the importance of filler stories. Worse, other journalists may uncritically reprint or amplify these stories, so that a trivial story can travel the world over and waste the attention of millions.

Now and then comedians and critics perpetrate benign hoaxes to draw attention to journalistic negligence and inflation, for example:

  • I think that reducing the whole topic to "journalists want attention" is trivializing the debates about language in the US (and elsewhere) a bit too much. What language to use for what concepts is a topic which is quite important to a lot of people. And none of the examples at the end of the answer are really relevant because neither is about language. – Philipp Sep 2 at 12:04
  • @Philipp, The kind of journalists who inspire questions like this don't merely want attention, they need it or starve, but they're not starving, so... We might agree that people feel important about which sports franchise they most identify with, but passion about trivia can't make it important in any general political sense. The language debates covered by the mass media of 10, 20, and 40 are as perishable as sports scores and diet fads. (cont.) – agc Sep 2 at 20:48
  • @Philipp, (cont.) This is not to suggest that debates about language usage are never important, they can be, but such debates differ, (in that they're often well focused, resolvable, and useful), from the sort of intractable partisan language squabbles that most interest a mass audience with a short attention span. – agc Sep 2 at 20:52

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