Larson’s article, “The War of the Roses: Demilitarizing Invasion Biology”, attempts to highlight the problematic aspects of framing invasion ecology with warlike metaphors. He argues that the strong, belligerent language often used when describing an invasive species has adverse effects for the cause as a hole. Larson describes how the militarized fashion in which we describe these species misrepresents the complex, multi-faceted issue of alien species as a two-sided battle, ending only in the destruction of one of the actors. He also argues that language familiar to human immigration debates and other current affairs may serve to bias people on the basis of their opinions about these clearly disjoint matters.
Larson’s argument seems undeniably accurate in its portrayal of the language used in invasive ecology texts. One of my classmates, for example, wrote in a blog post, “It is therefore surprising to find that the mute swans are an invasive species to the area and are on a warpath of destruction that is reaping havoc on the habitats of indigenous species.” (Primrose, 2010). While it should be noted that the author was attempting to juxtapose the serene appearance of the swan with its ecological effects, Larson’s point is nonetheless clear. Many texts use similar language to describe invasive species in the most dire and dramatic way possible.
While Larson does attempt to argue an interesting position, his defense is ultimately unsuccessful. The first major problem with Larson’s argument lies in that he provides no viable alternative. Strong, militaristic language is used to attract attention from the less scientific audience that reads about invasive ecology. He provides some alternative ideas on language to frame the subject in his conclusion, but it is immediately clear that these would not appeal to this audience in a remotely similar fashion. Another, and perhaps larger problem lies in the support of Larson’s argument. He attempts to validate broad sociological claims about the reception of invasive species with anecdotal and individual evidence. Sometimes dipping into the realm of hypothetical situations in which a reader is offended by certain language, Larson declines to provide any systematic approach to justifying his position.
Finally, it is ironic that while Larson argues about the manner in which militaristic language dilutes the scientific process, he himself ignores a fundamental concept of research. He fails to control for the varied intended audiences across several types of articles. It was illuminating to me, for example, that the above quote came from a classmate’s blog post. I began looking for quotes in sources to be cited in my literature review. I slowly realized that I had been looking in the wrong place. As I made my way towards progressively more casual writings, it was not until I looked at the most informal of sources before I found a satisfactory passage. Larson recognizes that militaristic language is used when describing the issues to a more informal audience, and decides to apply this to the scientific community at large. This seems to ignore the stratification of language across sources, a variable that clearly plays a critical role in how descriptive language is used.