Posts Tagged “metaphors”

Scientists often use war metaphors to describe invasion biology and their efforts to control and prevent invasions. Larson (2005) argues that militaristic language is hurting efforts to manage invasive species because it leads to inaccurate views, social misunderstanding, xenophobia, loss of credibility, and counterproductive conservation strategies. However, his arguments do not make sense in the context of most invasive species.

For example, I have found several examples of war-like language in my own writing. In a post on miconia, a South American plant that is invading the Hawaiian Islands, I state, “Currently, over a quarter of Tahiti’s native species are threatened with extinction as a direct result of the miconia invasion” (Finn, 2011). In the post, I also use the words “takeover,” “kill,” and “eradication.” Though these words call to mind a fight against a threatening enemy, they do not exaggerate the situation. Indeed, the people of Hawaii have referred to miconia as the “purple plague” and the “green cancer.” In the context of the miconia invasion, combative language evokes an appropriate reaction to the devastating plant.

There are flaws in each of Larson’s arguments. First, he argues that militaristic language “leads to an inaccurate view of invasive species.” However, describing an invasive species in militaristic terms does not prevent a nuanced understanding of invasive species, including their potential benefits and connections to humans that caused the invasion. Contrary to Larson’s assumptions, a militaristic approach to fixing the problem of invasive species does not preclude the placement of blame on humans. In fact, painting over invasive species with a kinder brush could lead to a misconception that invasive species are a natural part of human life and cannot be avoided.

Second, Larson claims that militaristic language “contributes to social misunderstanding, charges of xenophobia, and loss of scientific credibility.” In reality, most references to invasive species are in regards to a particular species, rather than to invasive species in general (Bossenbroek et al., 2005). Beneficial species are usually not referred to with unnecessary militaristic language. Therefore, as long as readers do not generalize specific cases to the whole field of invasive species, there should be no harm in using militaristic language if the situation merits it. Additionally, for legitimate articles, charges of xenophobia stem from reader, not the scientists. Good scientific articles reference only the invasive species in question, not irrelevant information from that species’ home. It is illogical for a reader to assume an article is attacking the people from a specific location when, in reality, it targets a harmful species. Larson also argues that the war metaphor could lead to a loss of scientific credibility if it is not used discriminatingly. In any scientific pursuit, a statement that is applied incorrectly could cause the field to lose credibility. As long as invasive species remain a significant threat, the appropriate use of forceful language should not cause a loss of credibility.

Finally, he argues that combative language “reinforces the militaristic patterns of thought that are counterproductive for conservation.” Larson claims militaristic language creates a larger association between invasion biology and politics. This association is not necessarily counterproductive. More legislation needs to be enacted to successfully control existing invaders and to prevent future invasions. Furthermore, Larson’s examples demonstrating “polarization” with regards to invasive species reference opposition to control methods. Control methods often have opponents, but this opposition should not be blamed on the language in the literature.

Alternative language to war metaphors could understate the great damage that invasive species are capable of, thereby decreasing efforts to control and prevent their spread. We cannot afford to passively accept the presence of invasive species.  Combative language may be the only way to effectively convey the gravity of some biological invasions and the need to prevent and fight their spread.

Bossenbroek, J.M., McNukty, J., and R.P. Keller. 2005. Can ecologists heat up the discussion on invasive species risk? Risk Analysis 25: 1595-1597.

Finn, C.B. 2011. Miconia: the purple plague. <>

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

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All too often do we see reports on invasive specie control using militaristic words like “kill” and “destroy,” but is that a real concern to us? Larson (2005) believes that scientific commentary and its destructive word choice have labeled invasive species as nuisances that must be dealt with immediately.  Thus, such literature has inaccurately led the public to view species containment as a “final solution” scenario where all of the species can be eradicated with the introduction of a single invader. Specie control, Larson argues, cannot be a one-step “bomb” where an invader is simply introduced and the problem is killed; Adaptive ecosystems require cyclical, rational solutions for the invaders to go away.  He believes the public should view invasive species from a Greek perspective as symbionts we live with, not as immediate threats to our survival. This mindset involves humans taking responsibility for the introduction of invasive species and then working at limiting the future spread of these organisms.

In SW3, when discussing the water Hyacinth invasion, I had written: “Weevils did their job, trying to destroy as many plants as possible, but failed to flush away the plants without El Nino patterns”.  The metaphors I used in my blog were there to spark interest in the reader, not to imply anything negative about the Hyacinth or the weevils. When referencing bio-control, the introduced predator is a killer, and its’ actions should be portrayed as aggressive.

Having looked at my own “military” metaphors, I think Larson is overreacting about the implications of words used in popular science journals. Contrary to his belief,i think the general public should see invasive species as a terminal threat, so they’ll be encouraged to support monitoring programs and volunteer efforts. The destructive solutions to species invasions are not driven by military metaphors; they are driven by our narrow-minded  understanding of complex ecosystems.  We try the most aggressive, yet simple techniques because there are too many factors in an ecosystem to formulate a well-planned, multi-step solution for a species, not because we’ve been brainwashed to love war by science-journal writers. I wonder what Larson has to say about his own use of the commonly accepted term “invasive” species, is that not a militaristic analogy? If the term was “non-native,” the reader could assume either positive or negative consequences of its’ introduction on the new ecosystem. But by labeling non-natives as “invasive,” readers view them as insurgents that need to be suppressed immediately.

I find it hard to agree with Larson’s statements in this article. He admits that readers need to be pulled into a story through provocative and militaristic words, but then worries that too much military opposition for a species is a problem. Invasive species control needs to be viewed as a necessity, and the only way to do that is through relatable military terminology.

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

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Militaristic language is often used when describing the impacts of invasive species on the environment. Larson (2005) argues that such rhetoric may ultimately be inadequate and lead to an inaccurate perception of these species. He argues that they contribute to social misunderstandings, loss of scientific credibility, and even race-related issues. Rather than use a warlike framework for invasive species, Larson suggests that they be conceptualized as a disease weakening the health of the ecosystem. This metaphor would better adopt a language that focuses on improving “quality of life” rather than emphasizing destruction (Larson 2005).

I have used a combative metaphor to describe an invasive species, the spiny water flea, in my first draft of my citizen science paper. The purpose was to draw the reader in, as well as describe the effect that the species could have on the environment by destroying the food chain (like an army invading in war). “Ballast water surges out of the side of the ship, carrying an army that is unseen by the human eye. Millions of barbed tail spines impel forward as one mass, well armed and seemingly unstoppable” (Naughton 2010). Although I did end up cutting this out of my paper, as it was not appropriate for the scholarly tone of the assignment, I do not think that it overemphasizes the danger of the species, or causes any sort of inaccurate perception.

In his argument, Larson exaggerates the use of militarism in invasion biology. To denote these metaphors as “class and race-based” seems absurd to me. His attempt to connect politics and social patterns with invasive species was quite extreme. I feel that warlike expressions are appropriate to describe the destructive mannerisms of the invasive species, as they can have affects that are detrimental to the environment/ecosystems. The rhetorical power of this language helps to generate action against the species and increase awareness. Using the alternative metaphor of a disease would have the same affect. I do not see much of a difference between the two metaphors, as they both are destructive and can both be “cured” or “solved with an alliance/defeat.” In conclusion, militaristic and combative metaphors within invasion biology seem fitting, as they illustrate species’ harmful affects on the environment, while drawing attention to the issues posed.

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

Naughton, H. 2010. Citizen Science Commentary:O.F.A.H. Highlights Citizen Science with Spiny Water Flea Study.Writing 20 Aquatic Invasive Species.

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