Filed Under (SW7, Uncategorized) by Brianca King on 13-10-2010

Larson (2005) argues that using militaristic language is not effective when discussing the problems that invasive species create. Using militaristic language takes attention away from what is really causing the problem. It pits humans against invasive species when humans are the main cause of invasive species distribution. This type of language can also discourage people from supporting conservation efforts and may have an opposite effect than the one intended on the people reading it. Larson(2005) advocates languagae that acknowledges the role humans play in the spread of invasive species and helps raise questions to analyze what we can change to lessen the effects of invasive species.  I titled one of my blog posts “Termite Attack” King (2010). This was the title for my SW2 where I talked about how subterranean termites were a problem in New Orleans, Louisiana. I felt the word attack was appropriate because the termites are literally attacking the wood structures in New Orleans. They have become a permanent threat and because of them the people of New Orleans can no longer trust the strength of their houses.

The one argument that Larson (2005) presents that I agree with is that militaristic language distracts from the fact that how human interactions with the environment are how invasive species spread. For example ballast water carries hundreds of species across the globe from their habitats to foreign environments everyday. The only way to make progress on the issue is to recognize how people contribute to the spread of invasive species and then investigating what can be done to change how humans add to the problem.



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

Filed Under (SW7) by Jania Arcia-Ramos on 13-10-2010

In the quest of informing the public about invasive species, many biologists resort to using militaristic metaphors for the purpose of gaining the public’s attention and effectuating urgent action.  Larson (2005), however, argues that this approach is not only inaccurate, but that in fact, using militaristic jargon can have the opposite effect.  One of the arguments that Larson makes is that in order to have a war, there must be two opposing sides, but this is not the case with invasive species since humans are the main cause of invasions (so to call the invasive species problem a war, would mean we are fighting against ourselves). He also states that war usually implies good winning over evil, but this is inaccurate when referring to invasive species since this problem will not be totally eliminated. Moreover, using such intense language to describe the invasive species problem can have a xenophobic impact and alienate certain groups of people from understanding the issue and acting to resolve the problem.

Militaristic metaphors are prevalent in the article Eradication-preventing invasions at the outset, by Daniel Simberlof (2003).  Military wording is not only present in the title, but terms such as “targets”, “strategy”, and “destruction” appear throughout the entire text. Simberlof (2003) discusses the effectiveness of eradications strategies using terminology loaded with war-like connotation such as when he states that some efforts “arouse the public and engage them in the battle against invasive exotics,” and that eradication can succeed “despite the poor lines of communications… and despite the formidable biological powers of the target invader” (Simberlof, 2003).

Larson (2003) argues that instead of using militaristic metaphors in which invasive species are seen as enemies that need to be eliminated, metaphors should focus on the acceptance of human responsibility for the invasions, and the prevention of these species. However, Larson (2003) fails to provide convincing examples. For instance, he states that using a health analogy could be effective, but then he points out that even this metaphor has militaristic connotations. Moreover, that specific analogy is not more effective than military metaphors in placing emphasis on the humans’ responsibility for invasive species since often times humans are not to blame for pests that cause health issues (Larson, 2003).  

Although I agree with Larson (2003) in that using excessively intense language when speaking about invasive species can lead to a loss of scientific credibility, I believe that militaristic metaphors, when used in moderation, can be a very effective method to promote the urgency of dealing with invasive species.  Military terms promote urgency of action, and since they can easily be identified, it is an effective way to bring about public recognition. Invasive species is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with promptly, and if the terms that are used to describe it are passive in connotations, then people might not recognize the urgency with which this issue needs to be dealt with.


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

Simberlof, D. 2003. Eradication- preventing invasions at the outset. Weed Science 51: 247-253.


Larson (2005) argues that the choice in diction of the authors who write about invasive species is overly combattive and militarisitc.  The way that some writers speak of aquatic invasive species as if they are our enemies of war seems to mischaracterize and mislead the general public of the situation at hand.  If anything, the militaristic language seems to make the situation something that we must quickly take action about, then enthusiasm for the cause is quickly lost.  But truly solving problems and getting “rid” of invasive species takes much more time commitment and tending over time.  Also, making aquatics seem like our enemies doesn’t exactly make the most sense, since the reason for their invasion in the first place is actually a result of human mistakes!  On top of all of this, speaking of the situation with invasive species as a battle seems to implicate that they can be eradicated and then after they are gone, the habitat can simply go back to the way it was before, but this is unfortunately not the case.  Larson (2005) ultimately suggests that we change our vocabulary, and instead try to take a more reasonable approach to managing the invasive species by giving them a proper amount of time to turn around the situation, and also using a multicultural models to restore the habitats.

An example of where this “militaristic language” that Larson (2005) speaks of can be found in the article, “California Officials Tackle a Toothy Lake Predator.”  The article uses combative language in two spots. “For the last decade, the state of California has waged a Sisyphean battle against the northern pike, a fish and a voracious eating machine” (McKinley 2007).  Also, “The lake was closed after Labor Day to prepare for the watery assault. The plan is simple: poison the fish with 17,000 gallons of rotenone, a commonly used pesticide that is absorbed through the gills and blocks the ability to process oxygen” (McKinley 2007).  This article basically outlines the myriad of ways in which the pike has wreaked havoc in California, and all the time and money spent trying to fix the problem without success.  Then the articles goes on to talk about how the state has come up with a new plan to dispose of the pike – poisoning them.  The language in this article leads us to believe that the northern pike is something that must be eradicated quickly, flushed out of the ecosystem, and then California will simply be able to move along, but this simply can’t be the case.  Every invasive species leaves its mark upon the ecosystem that it dwells in, and so do the control methods used to try and control them, such as the poison being dumped in the lake.

I think that Larson’s argument is a valid one, because the militaristic language does seem to convey the reality we face with aquatic invasive species in the wrong way.  Though they are a huge problem, the language used to describe them paints the wrong picture.  They are not in fact alien invaders who appeared in the United States to mess up our ecosystems and crowd out our native species.  In fact, they were introduced by us, and we are to blame for all these problems.  It’s not as if it would be the first time we shirked in our duty to protect and own up to our mistakes in taking care of the environment, but given how much destruction and biodiversity loss that these invasive species are causing, this is definitely an issue we should deal with in a realistic and honest way.  By using language that suggests war with these species, we make it seem as if they should simply be quickly eradicated, but in fact, it would be best if we took a step back, created a longer term plan for their removal, and wrote about them as works in progress and the threats that they are, not alien enemies.


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

McKinley, J. 12 September 2007. ” California Officials Tackle a Toothy Lake Predator.”  The New York Times.  <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/12/us/12pike.html?_r=1&ref=invasive_species>. Accessed October 12 2010.

Photo is from the New York Times article.

Filed Under (SW7) by Natalie Ferguson on 12-10-2010

The original intent of describing the controlling of  invasive species in militaristic terms was to inspire action to help the problem. According to Brendon MH Larson, however, it has done nearly the opposite. In the article, “The War of the Roses: Demilitarizing Invasion Biology,” Larson claims that despite the short term attention drawn from words such as combat or eradicate, the long term effects prove to be insufficient.  In one instance, Larson cites the “‘boomerang’ effect, whereby ‘extremely intense language or images used for purpose of persuasion can have an opposite effect on the receiver,” as studied by Mio (1997). Despite Larson’s coherent argument, the warlike approach builds up an idea in the audience’s minds that invasive species are the enemies. In the end, creating a negative attitude against them may ultimately drive future decisions against them when given the opportunity.

One instance of the effectiveness of the combative approach is seen in Rejmanek et al. in 2002. The belligerentword, “eradication” is clearly labeled in the title, and 51 other times throughout the article. Other militaristic words such as “strategy” and “target” are coupled with “eradication” to describe the efforts against invasive species. The article itself argues that the “eradication” of a particularly invasive weed is feasible with possible biocontrol methods. Larson argues that the militaristic language is “misleading” because it assumes “we can pit ourselves against invasive species.” As seen in the case of Rejmanek et al., we can in fact successfully rid an area of an invasive species, thus proving Larson wrong.

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

Rejmanek, M., M. J. Pitcairn. 2002. When is eradication of exotic pest plants a realistic goal?  In Veitch, C. R. and Clout, M. N. (eds.). Turning the tide: the eradication of invasive species. IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group: 249-253



In Larson’s article, The War of the Roses: Demilitarizing Invasion Biology, Larson firmly opposes the militaristic rhetoric that saturates current literature regarding invasive species.  Metaphors referring to invasive species as “enemies” that must be “destroyed, battled, and fought”, says Larson, can detract from the author’s goal; He believes writing in such extremes inevitably results in inadequate or inaccurate descriptions, and can make the reader less affected or moved by the text. Thinking in a militaristic way, says Larson, detracts from the the ultimate goal of solving the species imbalance and creating a synergistic relationship between all the present species. It is not a good approach, therefore, to set human beings against nonnative species as if human beings will eventually be the savior, for two reasons; according to Larson, human activity is often the means by which invasive species are spread to begin with, and additionally, attempting to restore a habitat to its original collection of species, and in the original balanced ratios, is a futile exercise.  Instead of discussing how to remove invaders, the rhetoric we use should center around preventing further spread of invasive species.  Larson suggests comparing invaders to pathogens and diseases in the body, because the human tendency to sympathize with the notion of a healthy ecosystem would be more effective than the militaristic description.  Finally, he suggests that humans absorb the notion that they are to blame for the transportation of invasive species and must assume responsibility for them, rather than view them as aliens and separate entities.

In my own blog about the invasive species, the Rusty Crayfish, I myself use militaristic language, in the following passage:

“The Rusty Crayfish is on it way to destroying many stream and lake ecosystems and has induced a number of ecological problems due to its aggressive usurpation of non-native habitats… The anglers who enjoy fishing as a recreational activity seem unaware that the non-native species they continue to introduce to new environments is destroying the diversity in the marine beds, making food acquisition difficult, reducing nesting areas and erosion control, and eliminating many fish populations.” (Majumdar, See Blog Reference Below)

In this small paragraph, I depict a crayfish as a destructive force, with vocabulary including “aggressive” and “usurpation”. While the statements are not untrue by any means, my argument is weakened, and appears dramatized, by the idea of a river creature “usurping” anything.  The gravity of my argument is diminished by this exagerrated rhetoric, and therefore I do agree with Larson, to an extent, because he makes valid points outlined in the first paragraph.  I do believe, however, that criticizing this kind of militaristic language gives the rhetoric too much importance since these terms are often used this way in all kinds of literature, and militaristic talk has also become accepted colloquially. This means the severity behind the terms has diminished and the “fight” against invaders no longer means that scientists are proposing for environmentalists to venture out to the aquatic environments and literally fight off anything. Thus, Larson makes valid points and the rhetoric in many invasive species papers could be improved to strengthen the arguments, because dramatizing the situation can become ineffective, even when the content is significant or possibly alarming, but Larson also takes the rhetoric too literally.


Filed Under (SW7) by Drew Van Orden on 12-10-2010

In the “The War of the Roses: Demilitarizing Invasion Biology” paper, Larson argues that using militaristic language is not an effective way to write about invasive species. One way he thinks the use of this jargon is a poor way to write about alien species is because it creates an opening for debate as to whether or not we need to change the way we are trying to maintain native ecosystems. Making invasive species the clear “enemy” also causes points of inaccuracies. Although Larson does accept that the use of militaristic language captures readers attention, he says that in the end the overuse of this type of language is ineffective.

One example of militaristic rhetoric being used in an invasive species article is found in an article titled “Knee Deep Club declares war on invasive plant”, by John Luciano. Although the article is about a group of concerned citizens striving to keep the Water Chestnut plant off of their land, the language used makes it sound much more intense. One of the clubs members, Tim Clancy, was quoted saying “I want everyone to know that this menace is not in Lake Hopatcong yet, but it is a real threat”. This type of language and rhetoric is what Larson thinks articles would be better off without.

Personally, I like militaristic language being used in articles such as these. I feel like it grabs the publics attention and shows them that these somewhat unknown issues are very serious and require prompt and drastic measures to be taken Although I can see where Larson is coming from, I think that metaphorically connecting war to invasive species is an effective way of shedding light on the issues at hand.

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

Luciano, John. “Knee Deep Club declares war on invasive plant – NorthJersey.com.”NorthJersey.com. 12 Oct. 2010. <http://www.northjersey.com/recreation/94557669_Knee_Deep_Club_declares_war_on_invasive_plant.html>.

Filed Under (SW7) by Josh McGrath on 12-10-2010

In his article, Larson argues that militaristic language when speaking about invasive species simply propels sentiment where it does not belong. Relating problems such as invasive species using war terms puts those invasive species in a position that they do not belong. It blinds the reader to the fact that it is prevention and regulation that is important, not eradication or destruction. The goal is to keep invasive species from harming other species and habitats, not to hate the species and wage war on it. Larson states that perhaps focusing on conservation and acceptance would be a better path to take.

Even I have been a user of militaristic rhetoric in my own blog posts. In my post about the water hyacinth, “What Really Happened to the Water Hyacinth”, I wrote about the weevils chances of “successfully fighting off the water hyacinth” and about the “foreign invader” that is water hyacinth.

I agree with Larson in that the language at times may keep people from realizing that it is not so much a battle against the species in question, but really it is an ongoing goal of conservatism. However, the militaristic language and rhetoric are often the same tools used to get the people going. The language may be strong, but if it were weaker people would just find it easier to ignore. So, to an extent, the crazy fear mongering language we usually find on cable news, is sometimes necessary to actually get things done.

Filed Under (SW7) by Manuela Mejia on 12-10-2010

Larson (2005) is concerned that militaristic metaphors in invasion biology literature, both popular and scientific, are problematic. Although he believes that they do draw attention to invasive species, he argues that in the long run, such language will be ineffective because it resonates with the current political climate and may cause a “boomerang effect,” leading foreigners to be offended and argue that there is nothing wrong with newcomers in a new land. Larson also claims that militaristic language has the potential to cause conflict between invasion biologists and others who do not agree and that we must change our approach to language about invasive species. He suggests metaphors that relate to prevention and acceptance, not opposition, for example.

One example of such language is cited in Mack et al. (2000). “The long campaign to eradicate imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and S. richteri) from the southern United States has been labeled by E. O. Wilson as ‘the Vietnam of entomology’” (Brody 1975). Not only does this use words like “eradicate,” but it even mentions a specific military conflict that readers are familiar with and allows them to associate invasive species with something they are knowledgable about.

Although Larson does express some valid concerns, it seems that the positives of using militaristic language outweigh the potential negatives. Using extreme language is the best way to capture the public’s attention and Larson’s suggestions for friendlier alternatives would not be as efficient. Also, some of his concerns about this diction make assumptions about the nature of war. For example, in his discussion, he assumes that the word returns to a “pristine state” after the war ends. Clearly, this is not true, examining just a few cases like the world wars. The public needs to be aware of such a pressing issue and alarming language may be the best way to achieve this. Larson is correct that the panic created by such language is not ideal, but if it is not used, it would be much more difficult to encourage rapid action and change.

Brody, J. E. 1975. Agriculture department to abandon campaign against the fire ant. New York Times, April 20, p. 46.

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

Filed Under (SW7) by Cole Arora on 12-10-2010

Larson (2005) presents the claim that mechanistic ecological thought – and militaristic metaphors – are excessively present in much of the contemporary scholarly and non-scholarly scientific literature surrounding invasion biology.  He argues that such militaristic metaphors are used with the original intention of facilitating an easier conceptualization of the abstract topic of invasive species, but have the unintended effect of forming a framework of thought that is biased towards one specific view.  Though it is noted in the paper that every metaphor fosters some degree of inaccuracy, Larson (2005) argues that militaristic metaphors and rhetoric are particularly detrimental, because they invoke ways of thinking that are “inconsistent with a sustainable relation between humans and the natural world.”

According to Larson (2005), although it may lead to short-term galvanization of conservation support and widespread public concern, there are two main problems with the use of military rhetoric.  Firstly, he states that a war, in the traditional sense, requires two opposing sides, and that this situation is not reciprocated in terms of invasive species control.  Secondly, he argues that wars are initiated with the assumption that good will triumph over evil, but that this outcome is both economically and practically unreasonable.  These two misperceptions supposedly contribute to a general misrepresentation of invasion biology, such that invasive species become warped into an abstract “general enemy.”  He also argues that, among other things, military rhetoric leads to unwarranted concern and “crying wolf” scenarios, a “boomerang effect” with xenophobic resonance, a loss of scientific credibility, and short-sighted, linear solutions.  As an alternative to such rhetoric, Larson (2005) argues that invasive species should be conceptualized as “human symbionts,” thereby more directly implicating humans in their creation.

If anything, the paper’s supposition that militaristic metaphors are excessively present in scientific literature is most certainly true.  As one instance, in a paper titled “Invasion and the evolution of speed in toads,” the author describes toad dispersal ability as follows:

“…[T]he annual rate of progress of the toad invasion front has increased about fivefold since the toads first arrived… the disaster looks to turn into an ecological nightmare because of the negative effects invasive species can have on native ecosystems… control efforts against feral organisms should be launched as soon as possible, before the invader has had time to evolve into a more dangerous adversary.”

The initial invading toads in the population in question are encapsulated in the militaristic metaphor of a “front,” and the author demands that action be taken before the invaders develop into a more potent foe.  This ties into one of Larson’s arguments, in that the “battle” against cane toads is staged such that humans are pitted against the invasive “adversaries.”  Again, this is an incorrect description.

Within the entirety of Larson’s argument, there are specific points that I agree with, and likewise, there are others that I do not.  In my opinion, there is a fundamental flaw with the argument, something that influences every point made concerning the validity of militaristic rhetoric.  Essentially, the author claims that prevention of invasive species is futile, and that the eradication of established populations is economically and practically infeasible.  Calling his own view “pessimistic” in the paper, the fact that Larson argues against the use of rhetoric that could compel efforts to resist invasive species spread indicates an inherent bias towards his view that any and all efforts to resist invasive species are pointless.  However, at the same time, he stresses that militaristic language exaggerates the severity of the situation.  This begs the question:  due to the fact that invasive species are nearly impossible to remove once established, would not any and all potential invasions warrant concern, severity, and scientific attention?

Another point I disagree with is Larson’s claim for a “boomerang effect.”  While its existence is arguably validated, its significance is not; the argument that restoration programs oftentimes benefit upper-middle class rather than poor people is superficial at best.  For an example, simply look to the clearing of the water hyacinth that had run rampant over Lake Victoria – this effort directly supported local fishing and trade.  Furthermore, Larson’s pessimistic preference to let invasive species run their course seems to object to overly “zealous” restoration efforts.  This in and of itself seems counter-intuitive.

That said, I agree the most with his assertion that, more and more, militaristic rhetoric is being used to describe non-war situations, thereby diminishing actual war by describing it in other terms. As war terminology is continuously applied in this way, perhaps the public becomes desensitized to it – it loses its significance and becomes meaningless.  That said, I think that its use in relating the scientific significance of findings on invasive species to the general public (a readership that lacks the background knowledge necessary to synthesize the meaning of experimental findings) should continue.  This is because, although such metaphors simplify the problem, a general understanding of the current status of an invasive species by a large percentage of the population is preferable to a more advanced understanding by a small percentage of the population.  However, in scholarly scientific literature, militaristic rhetoric does not have a place.  In the realm of primary sources, where new ground is broken on research and discoveries are made, the warping of ideas into anecdotal metaphors is only a disservice towards the meaning said metaphors attempt to convey.

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

Phillips, B. L., G. P. Brown, J. K. Webb, and R. Shine.  2006.  Invasion and the evolution of speed in toads.  Nature 439(16): 803.