Words are things.  There is power in words.  There is power of words in science. When we use language in science, sometimes there is a lot of inconsistency.

Different individuals interpret definitions, meanings, applications of terms and phrases in unique ways.  The danger in this is that information, incorrect or a little correct, can be become commonly used and sometimes generate opinions.

Sometimes we call this pseudoscience.

Let’s look at an example.

What does an invasive plant mean to you?  What about a weed?  Are the two terms synonyms?

Many people think invasive has a negative connotation and suggests a “bad” plant that is supposedly having some sort of a negative impact on the environment. The same might hold true for the term weed.  Perhaps we need to re-think how we use these terms.

There are plants that pop up in places we might not want them like tree seedlings in the middle of your flower beds.  Is that seedling a weed or is it just in the wrong spot?

Invasive and weed both imply we have to remove or control the unwanted plant.  The term invasive, in particular, suggests a plant that is taking over, out competing, and threatening other plants or even ecosystems.

Instead of putting plants in a negative light, let’s try to look at them for the complex, successful characteristics they exhibit.

You’ve got to admit, a huge field of purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is pretty impressive but it’s not held in the same esteem as a meadow with predominantly golden rod (Solidago canadensis), for example.  My point to all this is we have a tendency to label things which is normal but perhaps we need to be more selective and prudent so that the true meaning of words is more consistent.

What are some terms in environmental science that you dislike?

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