Hello, friends! Welcome to another episode of Sciency Words. Normally on Sciency Words, we talk about those strange words scientists use, but today we’re going to talk about a word scientists—or at least some scientists—would prefer to stop using. And that word is:
Mars is so eager for humans to come visit and maybe even stay permanently. And plenty of humans are eager to do just that! We’ll bring life to Mars. Not only that, we’ll bring civilization and culture. One might say it is humanity’s destiny to colonize Mars.
But is this language of “colonization” and “destiny” too evocative of European imperialism? Some think so, and they would ask that we stop using such colonialist language when we talk about space exploration.
Now I want to be clear about where I’m coming from on this: I try my best to call people by the names and terms they prefer to be called, and if I find out that the language I use offends somebody, I’ll do may best to change. Some would accuse me of being too P.C., but I think it’s just good manners.
And I have found that if you make an effort to be respectful and accommodating to others, others will make an effort to be respectful and accommodating to you, and in general they’ll be more willing to forgive you if/when you do slip up and say something unintentionally hurtful.
So a few years back, when I came across this article from National Geographic, I started reading it with an open mind and a willingness to change. But by the end of the article, even I felt like this was an example of political correctness run amok. The word “colony” is offensive. So are the words “settlement” and “frontier.” Okay. What words should I use instead? Even that National Geographic article seems to concede at one point that we don’t have many workable alternatives to these terms.
But this concern does seem to be coming up more and more. Plenty of people in the scientific community are shying away from words like colony and colonization. Bill Nye (the Science Guy) says he avoids the word colony, and this official glossary of SETI terminology warns that “settle” and “colonize” may have certain negative connotations for some people.
So at this point, I’m not sure what to think. What about you? Do you think this is much ado about nothing, or should we really start looking for alternatives to words like “colony” or “settlement” in our space exploration vocabularies?
Next time on Planet Pailly… I actually don’t have anything planned yet for my next blog post. We’ll probably just talk about more space stuff.