Fixing terminology

Ken Klemow kklemow at WILKES1.WILKES.EDU
Mon Apr 21 10:52:14 EST 1997

Ross Konig wrote:

>There are many words that need to be fixed in plant
>physiology in similar ways (photoperiodism is usually
>noctoperiodism, abscisic acid should have been named dormin,
>dark reactions can only operate in daylight, etc.).

I heartily agree with this.

One of my own pet peeves with terminology involves photosynthesis.  I
despise the terms "light" and "dark" reactions because it gives students an
erroneous feel for what is happening.  Instead, I prefer the terms
"light-dependent" vs "light-independent" phases, and indeed have taught
those terms to my students for the past dozen years.

Interestingly, our department hired a second botanist, who is teaching
photosynthesis as part of our first-semester introductory sequence.  Much
to my chagrin, he insists on using the light and dark reaction terminology.
When we discussed the relative merits of the terms during a lab prep
session, he refused to change, noting that the "light reaction / dark
reaction" terminology is "standard".  He argued that those are the terms
that Calvin, Warburg, and Bjorkman used, and therefore we should continue
to teach them. The discussion became rather "spirited", and led to some
frayed nerves.

To address Ross's question, how do we "fix" bad terminology?  It seems that
we need some system to (1) decide on some standards for terminology (beyond
nomenclature of organisms and molecules), and (2) effectively educate all
educators about the terms so that we don't have some students learning the
"accepted" terms, while others continue to learn the obsolete terms.

As an aside, I could anticipate some postings from individuals who maintain
that terminology is unimportant altogether, and we shouldn't get so hung up
on that facet of biology.  To those individuals, I recommend an essay
written by Mark Twain in "A Tramp Abroad", dealing with hitching horses.
That essay, with some commentary, is included in the introduction to Agnes
Chase's "First Book of Grasses" published in 1964 by the Smithsonian.

How do we proceed?

Ken K.

Kenneth M Klemow, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
Wilkes University
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766
(717) 831-4758
kklemow at

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