November 25, 2009

4 Crinan Street
London N19XW
re: Chill out. NATURE vol. 461 no. 7268 October 29, 2009 page 1176.
I was doing volunteer work as a deck hand on a public aquarium tour boat when the marine biologist held up a creature and said, “This is a sea star.”  When I confirmed later with the biologist that the perfectly valid word starfish had been replaced by the problematic “sea star” and I had thus suffered a vocabulary loss I was told, “It isn’t a fish.”  It isn’t a star either, nor is it found in the bulk of the sea nor is it found only in the sea but can be found normally exposed on a tidal flat.  I had learned that I was ignorant and had been told I was stupid.  (You would have to be pretty dumb not to see at once that a starfish does not look like a fish.)  Not relishing the prospect of giving that message to children, I quit.

Needless violence to the language, like needful violence to animals, loses friends.  Too many people hate scientists already.  Since they have more children than we do, there will be more.  This is dangerous.

Open letter,

M. Linton Herbert MD 

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