In his piece, “The war of the roses: demilitarizing invasion biology,” Brendon Larson describes the increased trend toward using militaristic language in literature about non-indigenous nuisance species. He explains that dramatic metaphors are often used in an attempt to foster a sense of urgency about the non-native species, and rally efforts to control their spread. He then lists the problems with this approach, specifically the fact that looking at invasion biology as if it were a war is a misguided point of view that can lead to false impressions, unwarranted labeling of species as “enemies”, and loss of scientific credibility. He concludes by suggesting alternative metaphors that would raise awareness without the negative effects, such as likening invasive species to illnesses, which, as such, need to be treated – not “killed”.
Examples of such militaristic language are virtually ubiquitous in invasive species literature. One such instance can be seen in a previous post on this blog, “Welcome to Weevil!” (Marks 2010). The author writes, “Water hyacinth… causes many problems in the places where it invades… In order to combat this dangerous plant, weevils were introduced into Lake Victoria…” (Marks 2010). This employs a few different military themes. First, although certainly not unique to this post, the very term “invasive species” has a militant tone, suggesting a conscious strike into an enemy territory. The use of “dangerous” later in the quote serves to emphasize this theme. Most notably, the verb “to combat” cements the militaristic nature of the post, suggesting a tactical battle between ecologists and water hyacinth. Similar examples can be seen throughout numerous other pieces of literature in this field as well.
It would be hard to argue that there is no truth to Larson’s argument. There certainly are plenty of military metaphors to be found in the literature of invasion biology, and it cannot be denied that the light in which something is presented influences how the audience receives it. Particularly, it is essential that authors of scientific literature maintain their credibility if they wish to be taken seriously, and it is difficult to be entirely credible while using hyperbole and exaggerated metaphors. However, it seems that in his criticism of others’ sensationalism, Larson gets somewhat sensationalistic himself. At one point he goes so far as to assert that overly military language will raise fears of a “terrorist attack on the environment [with invasive species]” (Larson 2005), thus wasting scarce conservation funds on precautions for a near impossibility. It seems highly unlikely that anyone is too worried about terrorists smuggling invasive species into the country. Later in the article, he claims that “wars against invasive species indirectly contribute to veritable ones” (Larson 2005), an assertion that comes across as an exaggeration if not an outright absurdity.
As a whole, the article raises some important points, most of which should not be discounted. Larson gets somewhat carried away in his effort to show the importance of demilitarizing invasion biology, but the essentials of his argument still ring true. Scientists need to retain their credibility, and need to ensure that their literature will evoke positive conservation efforts, not destructive militaristic tendencies.
Larson, BMH. 2005. The war of the roses: demilitarizing invasion biology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 3: 495-500.
Marks, Jonathan. Welcome to Weevils! (SW2). WordPress Blog. http://sites.duke.edu/aquaticinvasives/2010/01/28/welcome-to-weevil/