Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The use of the word 'evolution' in science papers

Over at Respectful Insolence, Paula pointed to this PLoS Biology essay in the comments to one of Orac's posts about Dr. Egnor.

Evolution by Any Other Name: Antibiotic Resistance and Avoidance of the E-Word

The increase in resistance of human pathogens to antimicrobial agents is one of the best-documented examples of evolution in action at the present time, and because it has direct life-and-death consequences, it provides the strongest rationale for teaching evolutionary biology as a rigorous science in high school biology curricula, universities, and medical schools. In spite of the importance of antimicrobial resistance, we show that the actual word “evolution” is rarely used in the papers describing this research. Instead, antimicrobial resistance is said to “emerge,” “arise,” or “spread” rather than “evolve.” Moreover, we show that the failure to use the word “evolution” by the scientific community may have a direct impact on the public perception of the importance of evolutionary biology in our everyday lives.


The essay is quite interesting, since it clearly shows how Biomedical Journals doesn't use the word 'evolution', but instead use words like 'emergence' to describe the process.

As the essay rightly points out, this is a problem because it allows people to think that the understanding of evolution is not important in their daily life. It even allows doctors to think that an understanding of evolution isn't necessary for their profession (a misunderstanding the ScienceBloggers have dealt with at great length, in response to Dr. Egnor's ignorant claims).

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