Scientific American Also Mixes Terminology

The editors at Scientific American are afraid of PLoS ONE, but they’re more than happy to publish articles about Nature papers. Their coverage of the Komodo dragon virgin births contains the following lead in:

The “immaculate conception” of Komodo dragons at two English zoos might provide one explanation why Jesus was not a clone of Mary

And now a freakin’ Jew will explain why this is wrong. You see, the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary, free from original sin. This allowed her to be inseminated by God and give birth to the baby Jesus — God wouldn’t boink any ol’ Bethlehem floozy. The article’s metaphor is mixed and bereft of meaning.

Allow me also to take umbrage with this:

Embryos of some reptiles–notably crocodiles and turtles–don’t have any sex chromosomes; rather, the incubation temperature dictates their gender.

They mean that the incubation temperate of the eggs dictates the animals’ sex, but they were afraid to type the word sex. Maybe they couldn’t find the “X” key on their keyboard (it’s located between “Z” and “C”, beneath “S” and “D”), or maybe they giggle when the word is used. Either way, gender is not quite appropriate here. Sex is the right word. Gender is merely a social construct that dictates how certain sexes should behave. Sex refers to penises and vaginas and their equivalents in other taxa. You wouldn’t refer to male and female plants and genders, would you?


  1. #1 Gabe
    December 28, 2006

    I always used the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably. Webster also defines it as ‘Sex’ then adds a part B to also notate behaviorally and societal relationships. While I agree that the whole Jesus metaphor is absurd, is it really incorrect in scientific jargon to use gender as a synonym for sex?

  2. #2 RPM
    December 28, 2006

    is it really incorrect in scientific jargon to use gender as a synonym for sex?

    I doubt there’s any concensus on this, but I think they’re different. And, this being a blog, I’m supposed to make unsubstantiated claims with much gusto.

  3. #3 Jonathan Vause
    December 28, 2006

    Did you consider the possibility that they were taught in English class to avoid needless repetition? Having just used the phrase ‘sex chromosome’ on the line above (which at least proves that they knew where the ‘x’ was), don’t you think they were trying to come up with another word that means the same thing?

  4. #4 Roy
    December 28, 2006

    Thanks to computer electronics and all the different connectors, the old electrical notions of male and female became widespread, as did gender.

    People noticed that ‘sex’ was an overworked term, referring to body parts, sexual reproduction, sexual activity, sexual attraction, sexual interest, and so on.

    Using ‘gender’ to specify that the interest is only in XX versus XY is an improvement. We can speak of ‘gender specific’ without trouble, where ‘sex specific’ would be hopelessly ambiguous and would require some explanation of which of the many meanings of ‘sex’ we mean here.

  5. #5 Leon Brooks
    December 28, 2006

    It seems that you weren’t getting enough sex, so you added your own?

    Women in the Bible have some exciting times. Sarah had Isaac, for example, when she was about 100 years old, — & Mrs Noah had her three sons when her hubby was about 500.

    After that, directly starting Mary’s virgin pregnancy seems relatively trivial. The eventual consequences turned out to be quite a different matter. (-:

  6. #6 sam
    December 29, 2006

    After some horrendous mistakes about gravitational waves (my letter to the editor asking for corrections was plainly ignored) and these small mistakes, I’m slowly losing faith in SciAm as an accurate scientific publication… The author is correct about the differences between gender and sex. Using gender with other creatures would be anthropomorphism.

  7. #7 RPM
    December 29, 2006

    This is hardly an error that would cause one to lose faith in the publication. It’s just fun to bitch and moan about trivial matters and that’s what blogs are for.

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