a post about social science and humanities inclusion via language

I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of language and inclusion and/or alienation when it comes to discussing research. Of course, I’m a linguist, so I’m thinking about this kind of stuff almost all the time.

This was inspired by a survey I took asking about “science blogging”. When I read the title and the invitation to the survey — which didn’t come with much description — I immediately questioned whether this survey applied to me. It did, actually, but I didn’t figure that out until the end when it asked for my field and had social science options, but I have to admit that I questioned it the whole time. Do they just want physical and life science bloggers? 

In a perfect world, using the term ‘science’ would encompass everyone who follows a scientific method, no matter what they study; however, ours is not a perfect world, and the term ‘science’ is often used to refer to those who study the physical or life sciences.

My type of science is always qualified with the prefix “social”. Social sciences are different, because studying people requires a different approach than studying plants or rocks or cells.* But this post isn’t about making an argument for why everything should be “science”, but rather how to be more inclusive when you want to be. A lot of documentation around the Open movement is directed at the physical and life sciences and uses terms like science, PI, lab, data, and grants.**

Not that we don’t know what those mean in the social sciences and the humanities, but being tailored to the physical and life sciences does nothing to pull in people from the humanities and social sciences. Instead of science, why not use research? Using inclusive language in documentation meant for everybody will be more broadly applicable, and will avoid alienating part of your target group. Replace scientist and  PI with scholar or researcher. When you talk about open data, why not also talk about transparent methods or primary sources? Labs can be departments or working groups as well.

What are your views? What other suggestions can we make?


*I also wonder about animals. They certainly are different than plants or rocks or cells. Are zoologists social scientists? (Edit: my husband says “you should read Nature more often, they have this argument monthly”. Good to know it’s not just me who’s interested!)

**Okay, that last one might be a bit of a joke, but as Martin Eve has stressed, article processing charges for Open Access journals are exclusionary for social science and humanities researchers who do not have these covered by their grants — if they have grants at all.