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Wow! A jolt of electricity went down my spine. I feel like Harry Potter saying “Voldemort.”

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

Apparently, in biomedical journals, drug resistance and other phenomena can “emerge,” “arise,” or “spread.” It can “appear“, “develop“, “become common“, or “be acquired.”

As long as you don’t say it “evolves.”

A group of researchers, at the University of Virginia, discovered that authors who were studying evolution and publishing in biomedical journals were reluctant to use the word (1). They found that:

In research reports in journals with primarily evolutionary or genetic content, the word “evolution” was used 65.8% of the time to describe evolutionary processes (range 10%-94%, mode 50%-60%, from a total of 632 phrases referring to evolution). However, in research reports in the biomedical literature, the word “evolution” was used only 2.7% of the time (range 0%-75%, mode 0%-10%, from a total of 292 phrases referring to evolution), a highly significant difference (chi-square, p < 0.001). Indeed, whereas all the articles in the evolutionary genetics journals used the word "evolution," ten out of 15 of the articles in the biomedical literature failed to do so completely. Instead, 60.0% of the time antimicrobial resistance was described as "emerging," "spreading," or "increasing" (range 0%-86%, mode 30%-40%); in contrast, these words were used only 7.5% of the time in the evolutionary literature (range 0%-25%, mode 0%-10%).


At least someone hasn’t lost their sense of humor:

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. Indeed, we were told by one researcher that in the title of one proposal, the authors were urged to change the phrase “the evolution of sex” to the more arcanely eloquent wording “the advantage of bi-parental genomic recombination.”

Bi-parental genomic recombination?

Come on!

We might as well turn into lawyers if we’re going to start abusing language like that. Aren’t biology terms complicated enough, already?

On the other hand, we could say that biology language is arising, emerging or becoming too darn common.


1. Antonovics J, Abbate JL, Baker CH, Daley D, Hood ME, et al. (2007) Evolution by Any Other Name: Antibiotic Resistance and Avoidance of the E-Word. PLoS Biol 5(2): e30 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050030


  1. #1 Deepak
    February 13, 2007

    I am not sure if I should laugh or cry. Screaming might be the appropriate response

  2. #2 DragonScholar
    February 13, 2007

    By all means, the last thing we want science to do is cause controversy.

    We really are rolling over for the religious extremists and the anti-science crowd, aren’t we? I’m starting to understand why some of the more agressive atheists are so . . . well, agressive.

  3. #3 RPM
    February 13, 2007

    I’ve heard of people censoring their abstracts for the general public from grant proposals to exclude “evolution”. Funny stuff.

    A friend of mine was actually required by a journal editor handling his paper from removing the word “evolution” from the paper. The journal: Evolution! The editor said that the paper discussed variation within in a population, whereas evolution is change over time. Because my friend wasn’t discussing change over time, the editor wouldn’t allow him to refer to it as evolution.

  4. #4 carlo
    February 15, 2007

    RPM: well technically, I think the editor is correct. if you’re just discussing the current distribution of different alleles in a population, but outside of any context of change or time, then that doesn’t sound like evolution to me. although I hope that the editor said so for those reasons, and not because he wanted to avoid controversy.

  5. #5 Paul Decelles
    March 3, 2007

    Of course this sort of censorship is well known in biology text books. Why just this morning I was rereading Gould’s essay about this “Moon Mann and Otto” in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes. In a related note, a student of mine criticized a science Article in the NY Times which mentioned evolution, as being disrespectful of creationists. Why? Merely because the article failed to mention that not everyone believes in evolution.

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