Fixing terminology

Ross Koning koning at ECSUC.CTSTATEU.EDU
Mon Apr 21 12:54:46 EST 1997

At 11:52 AM -0400 4/21/97, Ken Klemow wrote:
>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.


I agree with you completely!

I think NASA had a real hand in changing to gravitropism.
By demanding that successful grant proposals use clear
terms or there would be no funding, NASA helped us all.
When money talks, people listen.

That one example doesn't work for the rest of the mess as
well, because there isn't a huge source of money focused
on one small aspect of plant physiology anywhere else.
This leaves us to the only place where money can talk,
or at least whisper, and that is in textbook publishing.

As reviewers of book chapters, we need to make sure that
intro bio, botany, and plant physiology texts start making
the transition to clearer, more descriptive, and accurate
language.  At first we may have to accept dual language
to appease die-hards such as your colleague.  In subsequent
editions the old misconceptions move into parentheses,
then maybe into footnotes or endnotes.  Finally they can go
into the oblivion they richly deserve.

In my last set of reviews for a book, I had to fight hammer
and tong to get them to use "syngamy" even in a parenthetical
after "fertilization."  But fight we must to get that toe in
the door.  Then we can start whittling away to get the new
term onto equal footing, and start eclipsing the old word that
is more about manure, compost, or ammonium nitrate than about
union of two gametes.  Later we can work on such terms as "egg."

It drives us crazy to have chickens laying eggs and us buying them
in the grocery.  Then we hear about chickens hatching out from
eggs...balderdash!  Buy a whole dozen eggs at the supermarket and
incubate them for the class...NO chicks.  That's because these
ARE eggs.  So what does a chicken hatch from?  A shelled zygote/embryo
also known as a "fertilized" egg.  Now I've seen some eggs with
manure on them...would that be a "fertilized" egg?  Would some
"Miracle-grow" help?  If the egg comes out of the hen with a
hard shell on it, where does the rooster fit into that?  Does
a male make a female fertile?  Does a sperm make an egg fertile?
Is it the other way around?  Are both hen and rooster fertile,
or only if they mate?  Does a hen who gets regular visits by
a rooster EVER lay an egg?  etc. etc.

An egg and a sperm unite
to make a zygote, period!
Syngamy says it best.

You'd think something as simple as syngamy rather than fertilization
would be easy.  We just have to work hard on it.

As for photosynthesis, I moved from dark reactions (grad school
days) to light-independent reactions (pre-tenure) to carbon-
fixation reactions (post-tenure).  I think we have to tread
very carefully early in our careers.  I almost had a personnel
issue on my hands when I sent a memo to my colleagues explaining
why dark reactions do not occur in the dark.  They had taught
it this way for years...plants do light reactions in the daytime
and the dark reactions at night...AMAZING at a university level.
My correction got the mis-information stopped, but I just about
lost my job over it.

BTW: the reason I switched from light-independent to carbon-fixation
is the same as the reason I dropped's just
unclear.  These light-independent reactions occur only in the are they truly independent of light?  Sure light
does not participate in the Calvin cycle, but light doesn't
participate in the transfer from ferredoxin to NADP either,
or photolysis for that matter!  So only part of the light
reactions are really light reactions if you mean light is
a direct participant.  If light is only an indirect requirement
to be a "light reaction" then the Calvin cycle is a light
reaction too.  In some ways (though I'm not there yet) the
traditional light reactions need a new name...maybe ETS?

In any case, we have to go through some orderly transitions from
language based on tradition to language based on accuracy in
science.  We don't want to jump right into it, but we DO have
to GET GOING on it.  Science is unapproachable enough for many
without inaccurate or even illogical terminology in the way.

To me our language must evolve to survive and it has been
through a long equilibrium so it's time for some punctuation
and adaptive radiation!  ;-)


Ross Koning                 | koning at
Biology Department          |
Eastern CT State University | phone: 860-465-5327
Willimantic, CT 06226 USA   | fax: 860-465-4479

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