War of the Words

February 23, 2010

Larson’s paper centers around the rhetoric of invasion biology. He argues that many biologists attempt to disseminate their findings by strategically using words that relate invasive species and human counter-measure efforts to invasion plans of foreign countries. By using such words, he feels that the wrong messages about invasive species are being sent to the public (i.e. the American public and U.S. Congress) and cause the general populace to consider control efforts in “a militaristic framework…” (Larson 2005). He also feels that their informality detracts from good science. Larson says such thinking is counter-productive, as a war-like approach will not succeed because human intervention is ultimately the main source of invasive species.

After sifting through our past class materials, I came across the article on mute swans. The title: Deeply Divided Panel Backs Eradication of Mute Swans. Immediately, the word “eradication” struck me as militaristic (Halsey 2009). Had the author wanted to just write an article about the declining swan population, a word such as removal or euthanization could be used. However, this word choice grabs the readers attention as an attack on the swans. The phrase “formidable threat” continues the description of the mute swan (Halsey 2009). Better yet, the article furthers its combative stance with this invader by stating a Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources panel convened to “review its eradication program” (Halsey 2009). Why does such a belligerent stance seem so commonplace? Whether we like it or not, humans hold a innate propensity for war. Since my birth, America has engaged in several armed conflicts, and has spent very little time at peace. It would seem as though these aggressive words (or more likely, this aggressive behavior) have made their way from the battlefield to the homefront, and by extension the classroom, laboratory, dorm room, and dinner table. The first things that grab our attention are usually sensational, emotion-provoking words and images. By casting a certain invasive species as the worst thing to ever happen to an area, a researcher or reporter is almost guaranteed to gain public recognition (and often funding to conduct more research or implement a control plan). In stark contrast, the odds of a scientist gaining public recognition outside his/her field of a paper or recommendation without using militaristic words are extremely low. We are too conditioned to think like soldiers (in this sense), and often ignore anything that we don’t perceive to be a threat.

Even though we hold a natural tendency to fight anything we consider detrimental, it is ultimately our own fault for the introduction of invasive species. While such metaphors are problematic when it comes to formality, they do bring a large, rapid response from the intended audience. During the Maryland snakehead scare, many of my friends and neighbors became incredibly frightened by this Chinese “superfish.” However, the public outcry allowed for the rapid approval of snakehead removal efforts. Thus, the response provoked by using militaristic references are almost always unparalleled.

Halsey, A. “Deeply divided panel backs eradication of mute swans.” 2009. The Washington Post. Retrieved 23 February 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/15/AR2009051501258.html

Larson, B. M. H. 2005. The war of the roses: demilitarizing invasion biology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 3: 495-500.

The War Against Militaristic Methapors

February 23, 2010

Larson discusses the many downsides to using militaristic metaphors when writing about invasive species. HE states that although militaristic language used can be effective in drawing attention to invasive species, it can also carry unwanted connotations. There are two main problems with using militaristic language the first is that it implies that there are two different sides and that we humans are not part of the problem but a lot of the time we are. War metaphors also lead to the assumption that invasive species can be completely defeated and this is not usually the case. These metaphors could interfere with conservation efforts. Also, after time these metaphors can lose their efficacy if they are used too often and for less problematic situations. According the Larson, by using militaristic metaphors biologists create an artificial feeling of war. Larson advocates using alternative language when writing about invasive species. He suggests that maybe a medical or disease metaphor could be more effective when talking about invasive species.

I found a lot of examples of the type of language Larson was talking about in new articles. When describing an ecologist looking for watermill foil the writer uses “an unusual reconnaissance mission” (Foderaro 2007). He is also described as being “on the front lines of the fight against invasive species” (Foderaro 2007). The writer also uses the phrase “the Adirondacks is girding for war” (Foderaro 2007). I can definitely see what Larson is talking about. I think that metaphors are definitely effective at grabbing attention, however I agree with his argument that they are overused. I do not necessarily agree that they are ineffective, but I think they can overshadow the issues and become problematic.

Foderaro LW. 2007 Battling a Nasty Green Invader From the Deep. New York Times.