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Is there a Sociology of Scientific Language?

  1. Aug 19, 2004 #1

    marcus

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    I'd guess the answer is obvious :smile:

    My nextdoor neighbor's field is Linguistics. She specializes in
    Sociolinguistics---what can you tell about society from the words
    people use, and avoid using. She can listen to the news coverage of an event and often get an essay out of the linguistic behavior she picks up.

    yeah, there is quite a Sociology of Science and working scientists
    love to talk about it---mainly at the level of anecdote. The
    changing fashions in terminology are only part of the story.

    But they are an important part. Different groups of scientists will sometimes push different concepts and there can be academic battles over whether or not to use some word.

    So it would seem there is a Sociolinguistics of Science, or a
    Sociology of Scientific Language. And I guess a smart Social Science grad student could get a thesis in it.

    I wish I was more up-to-date on what's going on in Sociology but I
    think that (well first of all my neighbor the Sociolinguist is wonderful
    and extremely funny and if she hasnt done something on the Sociology
    of Science then I'll bet she knows someone who has)

    A great thesis topic IMO would be the linguistic controversy that seems to be going on about whether to say the word Race or not!
    ------
    I think it is an interesting thing to watch. It mainly has to do with human social behavior and especially contemporary language behavior.

    If they decide to use the word then they become responsible. they have to take charge of it and use it in a sufficiently sophisticated way that they know what they mean by it in any given context. They have to invent rules of usage, as you can have and may need to have with technical terms.
    If they decide not to use the word then they have to invent synonyms and also do the same thing: make explicit definitions and rules of usage.
    ------

    By the way, I think in any Sociology of Language discussion the etymology of words should be mentioned. Some people maybe dont care about word origins and dont think they matter. but I disagree. Since there is so much excitement around the word race, i would like to know what language the word comes from and what it originally meant. Anybody know?

    Just to be fair, same question about posible alternative terms like "cluster" "subspecies" "population group" "scion" "clanoid" "isolate" "gene class".
    Some of these are not actual words, just possible words, and some mean different things and would have to be re-defined, but that is possible too.

    My websters says the word Race can either mean root, coming from Latin radix by way of Old French rais
    like there is this word "deracinate" meaning to up-root
    and then there are several other meanings like footrace etc.
    and then there is the meaning we are concerned with, where
    Websters just says it is related to the Italian word RAZZA and
    is of "origin unknown".

    So the word Race that people are making a fuss about is "origin unknown"
    But I heard someone say it might possibly come from Latin
    "generatio"---begetting---which would be a connections to genes.
     
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  3. Aug 19, 2004 #2

    Nereid

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    Suggestion for a fun afternoon (or not)

    Google on the names of some countries which include English as an official language (or use a language you are comfortable with) and 'census'. Find the official census organisation (often called a Census Bureau), and search for the demographic profiles from the latest census. Other than by sex and age and geography, how else does the official census slice & dice the population? If there's something that you consider to be a synonym for 'race', take the time to check out a) the actual census questionnaire(s), b) the background material on how the relevant questions came to be chosen, and c) what guidance census ennumerators (or takers, or whatever they're called) are given on how to assist people to answer the relevant questions.

    In terms of your own uses of the word 'race', to what extent are the apparent synonyms not really synonyms at all? Do you feel that the authorities in countries which don't include 'race' in their censuses are simply being PC? From your trips to those countries, do you feel that the local people would dearly wish their governments to include questions on 'race' in the censuses?
     
  4. Aug 19, 2004 #3

    marcus

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    in the other thread we came up with "ancestry"---this is actually thanks to Nereid's reasearch into the Census forms of various countries. I gather they use "ancestry" classifications in Australia.

    so fortunately you took care of that Nereid, hearty thanks!

    My approach to language tends to be etymological and my guess is
    that the root meaning of "race" is much the same as "ancestry"

    One's ancestors are one's progenitors---from the Latin "genero"
    meaning to beget.
    A generatio is a begetting or a generation

    In medieval Latin it was probably pronounced more like
    ge ne RASS io

    and those semi-literate European numbskulls just heard the RASS
    (everybody knows what sloppy Latin-speakers the French are, they
    leave off 2/3 of the syllables! French is heavily eroded Latin.)
    and the Italians and Spanish said "razza" but it was really
    a generation or a begetting by the ancestors.

    God, these are tough issues!

    I really really hope that applying DNA classifications can rigorize
    the whole business. and that Human Geneticists and other scientists can get so they can come to grips with human diffs
     
  5. Aug 19, 2004 #4

    marcus

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    by the way, the Italians say razza di cane
    for breed of dog
    that is, they use the same word (razza) for
    a race of people and a breed of dog

    "I like your dog. What race is it?"

    On the other hand, Shakespeare applied breed to people.
    In Henry V he refers to the English population cluster or subspecies as
    "This happy breed of men!"

    how complacent can you get? listen to this:
    ---quote from the Shake---


    This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
    This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
    This other Eden, demi-paradise,
    This fortress built by Nature for herself
    Against infection and the hand of war,
    This happy breed of men, this little world,
    This precious stone set in the silver sea,
    Which serves it in the office of a wall
    Or as a moat defensive to a house,
    Against the envy of less happier lands,
    This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

    ----endquote---
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2004
  6. Aug 19, 2004 #5

    selfAdjoint

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    For he might 'a been a Rooshian
    A French or Turk or Prooshian
    Or perhaps I-tal-i-an.
    But in spite of all tempta-ashuns
    To belong to other na-ashuns
    He remains an Englishman!
    He remains an E-e-e-e-nglishman.

    W.S. Gilbert
     
  7. Aug 19, 2004 #6

    Moonbear

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    Root seems like a pretty likely origin for race, as we talk about someone's ancestral origins as their roots, so a derivation of that concept does fit with what is commonly used as the term race.

    The sociology of scientific language, hmmm...yes, there is certainly something to that. Scientists are very aware of it in many senses. For example, the long-held tradition of publications being written in third person, passive voice to make the studies sound more impartial, and less egotistical. There is now a shift in some journals toward using first person, active voice, so people take actual ownership of their work (and presumably the blame too). However, that "royal we" is very often used. Nobody ever says "I did this," instead it is, "We did this," even if it's a single-author publication.

    And we use other words very differently than the lay person. When we talk about something being significant or a trend, we are talking purely in terms of a statistical cut-off, not importance or popularity. I've actually been critiqued for use of superlatives in my writing, so now just steer clear of them. And, you don't speak a single sentence without tacking on a citation that provides the evidence of what you say being true, or pointing to a figure that shows your own data justifying the statement. If you are just speculating about an answer, you better say straight up, "this is just speculation." There are very clear rules to follow.
     
  8. Aug 19, 2004 #7

    marcus

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    selfAdjoint, I have been looking at some of the posts to try to understand viewpoints better and I was struck by the following.

    nuenke said:
    now I would consider changing the "look, behavior, temperament, and intelligence" of dogs to BIG changes and I hear nuenke expressing interest and surprise at the power of just a few genes to make such really big changes in the actual dog. So I think it is a statement about the surprising bigness of the difference (which just a few genes can cause).

    But Monique responded in a way that gave it a different spin. She dismissed the differences (not because in real life they are minimal but) because they are caused by only a few genes!

    What is happening here? What happened to the amazement at the disparity between cause and effect? What happened to nuenke's focus on dogs (with only a sidelong glance at the human analogy). We seem to be misunderstanding each other's messages combatively. Instead of getting the message we are blocking it. Nuenke wanted to say the difference between dogbreeds was BIG, definitely something to consider if one is going to have a dog in residence (and isnt it amazing how this can involve only a few genes?), but Monique was having nothing of it. Applying what she said to dogs (instead of humans) it would say:

    that would mean that the difference between the different breeds is only very small.

    In effect, because interbreed difference involves only a few genes the resulting change must therefore be considered small, or even negligible.

    I think the greatest challenge here is in the language of discussion. How do we maintain two different distance scales (DNA distance and phenotype differences) without getting jerked around and having head-on collisions like this.

    It should be simple. Both scales are valid. There is DNA distance, how many active sites differ? how many genes differ?--count them. And there are measurements you can make of the phenotype: the actual dog. We should be able to have a conversation involving two distinct metrics without crashing into each other.

    Also it could be desirable to only talk about dogs. If nuenke had not drawn analogies with humans then Monique might have responded in a totally different way.

    Hypothetical Monique: Yes Nuenke! It is a fantastic thing how changing just a tiny percent of a percent of the genes can make what looks like a completely different dog!

    Do we need a rule that only dogs are allowed to be discussed? All humans must be kept on leash---and stay out of the flowerbeds..
     
  9. Aug 20, 2004 #8

    selfAdjoint

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    Marcus, why address this to me? I am agnostic on the word race. I do emphasize that some populations in the US are nearly reproductively isolated. Specifically "blacks" and "whites". I also claim that the whole intra group variance versus inter group variance issue is a side show, if not a propaganda blast from the marxist critics of genetic biodiversity.

    BTW the word recce in Gothic meant "the people, the tribe". My name Richard, if it is cognate to the Gothic name Reccared, means "Counsel of the tribe". The unobserved Anglo-Saxon equivalent would be Ricered. I think Italian got its word razza from the Visigoth invaders/rulers of Italy in the fifth century.
     
  10. Aug 20, 2004 #9

    marcus

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    The etymology is delightful but I cant help seeing a smile at the mouth's corner. You can't be serious about a Visigoth origin! Or can you!
    I am a kneejerk Italophile and Mediterranocentrist so I cant believe in recce, it must be generatio. :smile:

    Yeah, I really really like your agnosticism about this!
    I also sense a lot of common sense and flexibility in Monique.
    she has said some things I admire a lot, for a kind of clearsighted
    nonpartisan steadiness.

    This time i was disappointed because I thought she was short with hitssquad.

    All the paper says is if you give them all the same food then some types
    absorb more folate than others----it could have relevance to diet counseling I guess.

    Well, there is more to say but I better post this and think a little first.
     
  11. Aug 20, 2004 #10

    marcus

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    I suppose I want to talk with you because I feel a certain agnosticism too.

    I have a kind of "leave your language alone" attitude.
    when I read someone's paper I just want to be sure (s)he defines the terms and uses them consistently------or relies on citable conventional definitions.

    So this kind of dogood business where you try to make people use or not use words (apparently for their own good!) is alien and even a little disturbing.

    but the adorable ladies of PF seem banded together on this, which makes for an uncomfortable situation for an old lecher like myself. How can Evo who is so charming other times be doing this? yesterday she posted a link in the PRINCETON ALUMNI WEEKLY to some soothing words for public consumption from Shirley genome administrator performing her role. Dont be frightened, just keep our grant money flowing. No footnotes, are you crazy?, just revealed truth for the house organ.
    So then, having established by this authority that there are zero human races, Evo proceeds in her next couple of posts to admonish people for using the word. You shouldnt be using that word, you know, because there arent any races.

    So I feel under fire because I think people should be able to use words---and not be harrassed or spammed with huge quotes of Authority or admonished and called ignorant. they should be able to use words---and if they are clear enough about it then OK.

    for me race is an amusing, and often rather attractive thing. I have a japanese friend who is beautiful in a different way---she comes from an aristocratic family with history back to 1350-1400 and it shows
    also Im very pessimistic about the human predicament. we are dreadful creatures so much of the time. Oh and I happen to be a blood descendent of Johannes Kepler :uhh:
    but this is all flak as we walk across the minefield of reality.
    basically I care little about race, what I care about is that I see people
    getting shouted down by some kind of PF policeforce
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2004
  12. Aug 20, 2004 #11

    marcus

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    Moonbear! I read your poetical essay about Prometheus Stemcell-bringer.
    there was an elegant tangled (buzzword: nonlinear) web of mental associations.
    the associations between fire and stemcell, the vulture punishment and ideological restrictions on research, the stemcell and the ability of his liver to regenerate were in fact a tangle that one could not easily diagram in a rational outline. I thought that was nice. So you can think both orderly and disorderly.
    I have lost track of the link to that article. If you dont mind would you post it. Or if I find it again I will post the link here. I cant remember your name.

    what were we talking about. the sociology of scientific language.
    verbal niceties. the agenda of a group of scholars can be expressed
    in choices of terminology. battles. taboos.

    yes and safe-scholarship practices like putting a citation at the end of every sentence---almost a form of punctuation! pleasure meeting you Moonbear
     
  13. Aug 20, 2004 #12

    Nereid

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    'race' as used in medical (etc) research - essentially US only?

    A thread in the Biology section has the title "Ethnicity and race influence the folate status response to controlled folate intakes in young women". I think it would be an interesting topic for a sociolinguist.

    Consider: "NIH requires that any human clinical studies include multiple racial groups unless there is strong justification not to do so." (Source

    The US Census Bureau defines the terms 'African American', 'Mexican American' in its 2000 census, and states that Hispanic is not a race, but African American is. Further, the Bureau's racial and 'ethnic' (?) categories are explicitly sociological - i.e. the individual determines for herself what race (or races) to use (or not use). Finally, for the first time (?), the 2000 census allowed residents of the US to choose more than one race.

    The authors of the paper (Perry et al) followed the Census Bureau's approach to determining the 'ethnicity/race' of the subjects "Women of self-reported Mexican American (n = 14), African American (n = 14), and Caucasian (n = 14) descent, defined as having 2 parents possessing the same ethnicity/race,"

    Given that the NIH is (I'm told) a very important funding source of funds for medical research in the US, and that another part of the Federal government has defined the key categories in a certain way, to what extent do you think Perry et al were influenced in their choice of category names? If instead of being a global superpower, the largest economy on the planet, etc the US were the 50th biggest economy, and the leading journals of the field had editors with a distaste for the use of the term 'race' (unless there was a strong justification to use it), would Perry et al have worded their paper somewhat differently? In other words, to what extent is the use the term 'race' in medical research journals a product of NIH and US Census Bureau policies?

    Please note that I'm following marcus' lead here - the actual content of the study is irrelevant for the topic of this thread.
     
  14. Aug 20, 2004 #13

    Monique

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    Thank you marcus.
    You know it was just a note and I retracted the observation, so I hope that is cleared up.
     
  15. Aug 20, 2004 #14

    Monique

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    You mean this article? http://content.nejm.org/cgi/reprint/349/3/267.pdf
    That wasn't written by Moonbear :smile:
     
  16. Aug 20, 2004 #15

    Nereid

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    Monique of course can comment on this (or not); however, some may be interested in another person's response on reading Monique's post (mine :smile:)

    It may be that marcus didn't read (or if read, didn't remember) loseyourname's posts earlier in the thread (here, here , here , and here). I did, so when nuenke commented that the breeds differed by only a few genes, it was (to me) a nice confirmation of the things which loseyourname said. Perhaps I should have been more amazed? But then I know very little about dogs, and have little interest in them, so maybe the fact that nueke's post didn't cause me to fall off my chair in amazement reflects more my personal ignorance about dogs (and lack of desire to do anything about that ignorance).

    Further, as loseyourname made quite clear, the breeding of dogs has no obvious relationship to the breeding of humans - dogs have been domesticated for a very long time, and their breeding has been under significant human control for almost that whole time; to be surprised at findings on (domesticated) dog DNA would be like being surprised at findings on strawberry DNA (unless, of course, we had lots of wild strawberry DNA to analyse too) - wow! only two genes make the difference between 5 mm strawberries and 10 cm ones!!

    The human analogy which marcus hints at is even more of a stretch; there have been lots of posts on this topic which reported that the genetic diversity within human population groups is much greater than that between them - other than for cultural reasons, why get worked up about small differences that can only be uncovered with really powerful statistical analyses when far bigger differences jump out of the page (well, statistical analysis package) at you? After all, historically racial differences were expressed as skin colour, hair colour and curliness, and a few other things; since we've known for a long time that eye colour (for example) and hair colour are a matter of only a few genes, why should one be surprised to find that the rest of 'racial differences' are also only skin deep? Doesn't that strengthen Monique's case that exaggeration of the tiny genetic difference between 'races' is entirely misplaced?

    With the greatest of respect marcus, isn't your post merely saying 'gee, I'm awfully ignorant about this subject'?
     
  17. Aug 20, 2004 #16

    Nereid

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    Again marcus, with the greatest of respect, since you've started posting to this thread, may I comment that you haven't once addressed the *science*? What I mean is, Cavalli-Sforza et al wrote four very good paragraphs on why 'race' as a scientific concept has passed its 'use by' date. In another post I commented that some scientists do use the concept. At the risk of oversimplifying, you took that comment and ran with a 'democracy in science' comment, without any reference whatsoever to the content of the debate :grumpy: To turn up the contrast, to me this is like saying that some idea in cosmology which has been shot down multiple times in terms of observations, internal consistency, and external consistency deserves equal airtime to Lineweaver, Tegmark, Hawking, Smolin, Greene, and so on.

    In fact, if I may vent (is that what you say in the US?) a little, my greatest frustration is that no one (almost) has addressed the content of Cavalli-Sforza et al's material! :cry: :mad: (iansmith came close; SelfAdjoint asked a question). Further, no one posted anything from any scientist who does use 'race' (except for BV's quote from a US forensic guy).

    Since this thread is about the sociology of scientific language, can we consider PF threads on this topic as data for analyses? In this sociolinguistic analysis, do we have an obligation to examine the underlying scientific issue at all?
     
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