Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Richard de Grijs. Richard is Associate Dean (Global Engagement) and Professor of Astrophysics at Macquarie University in Sydney. He served as scientific editor of The Astrophysical Journal from 2006-2012 and Deputy Editor of The Astrophysical Journal Letters from 2012-2018. Richard is currently Associate Editor for the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage.
When NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, announced in August 2020 that it would retire the use of potentially offensive astronomical nicknames, sections of the Internet immediately railed against the organization’s perceived ‘wokeness’. Numerous social media commentators complained about political correctness gone awry.
Indignant complaints that a policy or approach is guilty of “wokeness” have always been mystifying to us. None of us has an inviolate right to treat others with disrespect. Over recent decades the ranks of science have (too slowly) expanded to include a variety of races/cultures, sexes/gender identities, ages and people who live with a disability. And the readership of our work has definitely expanded. People do have a reasonable expectation to be treated with respect and to be included in scientific discussions, rather than excluded because of who they are. Times have changed folks, we all need to change as well. If you disagree, we will need to agree to disagree.
The use of inclusive language in scholarly communication is increasingly seen as important, and a number of publishers and societies have issued their own guidelines, including Nature Astronomy, the American Astronomical Society, the American Psychological Association, and a growing number of higher education institutions around the world. Academic writing often aids in molding societal behavior and perceptions. Unconscious biases can result in unintentional stereotyping or exclusion simply through ill-considered word choices. As scholarly communicators, we are often seen as role models—to our students, peers, and even to society as a whole. Inclusive language in scholarly communication serves to acknowledge and celebrate diversity, extend respect to different sections of society, and ultimately promote equitable opportunities.