War metaphors are pervasive in our society. They are used to discuss everything from financial markets to sporting events to the spread of invasive species. Brendon Larson of the University of California-Davis takes issue with this latter trend in a recent article in Frontiers in Ecology. He argues that the use of militaristic language in discussing invasive species is actually harmful to conservation efforts as it confuses the public and discredits scientists. An example of such language can be seen in the blog post “Foiled by Milfoil,” which concludes a discussion of milfoil’s harmful ecological effects with the following statement: “The battle of whether to kill off milfoil or to try and control it for human use is currently underway” (clr26 2010). This phrase depicts milfoil as an enemy that must be either annihilated or harnessed, both militaristic ideas that Larson would find troublesome.
The pervasiveness of militaristic metaphors in discussions of invasive species is hardly debatable, however I disagree strongly with Larson that it is problematic. Military metaphors are well understood by the general population and so they often serve as an effective way of communicating ecological concepts that may be somewhat abstract. An example is the use of the term dud to describe an invasive species that fails to spread or have a profound ecological impact. I think this metaphor is clear and effective and do not understand how it can be construed as discrediting the scientists who use it. In conclusion, Larson fails to provide any evidence of public opinion for or against the use of military metaphors in the scientific literature and so his argument lacks a serious foundation.
Link to “Foiled by Milfoil?”: http://sites.duke.edu/aquaticinvasives/2010/01/23/foiled-by-milfoil/