A virtual paleontology conference hit a brief snag during early Q&A sessions when participants were barred by the profanity filter from using seemingly innocuous words such as ‘bone,’ ‘hell,’ ‘ball’, ‘stroke’ and more.
The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) hosted its annual meeting as a virtual event throughout the week because of the pandemic, with various workshops and panels held online.
But following the completion of several of the presentations, those attending the conference found that they couldn’t use certain phrases and words in their questions.
The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) hosted its annual meeting as a virtual event throughout the week because of COVID-19
Q&A sections held after each presentation at the SVP became difficult as participants couldn’t use a variety of words in their submissions. Two paleontologists cane be seen extracting a fossilized bone from the desert
Thomas R. Holtz Jr, a paleontologist at the University of Maryland, made a spreadsheet that documented the various words that had been banned. The spreadsheet, which he shared to Twitter, was updated whenever a word was removed from the ban list.
Words that were banned included: bone, hell, ball, stroke, Wang, jerk, knob, stroke, stream, erection, Dyke, crack, enlargement, lies and beaver.
Convey Services, the platform that was handling the conference, came with a ‘pre-packaged naughty-word filter.’
‘The platform we’re using for the conference is apparently set up for business and industry meetings, not science, and apparently it came with a pre-packaged naughty-word-filter,’ Dr Stephanie Drumheller, a paleontologist at the University of Tennessee, shared on a Reddit thread for the conference.
Thomas R. Holtz Jr, a paleontologist at the University of Maryland, made a spreadsheet that documented the various words that had been banned
Words that were banned included: bone, hell, ball, stroke, wang, jerk, knob, stroke, stream, erection, Dyke, crack, enlargement,lies and beaver
‘After getting a good belly laugh out of the way on the first day and some creative wording (my personal favorite was Heck Creek for Hell Creek), some of us reached out to the business office and they’ve been un-banning words as we stumble across them. It takes a little time to filter from Twitter to the platform programmers, but it’s getting fixed slowly.’
Emily Rayfield, a professor of paleobiology at the University of Bristols and current president of SVP, took to Holtz’s post to share that they had been in contact with Convey Services to have the list changed.
‘We’ve been in contact with the #2020SVP platform providers and they’ve lifted the ban on various words,’ she said in response.
While the banned words did provide a momentary dose of laughter for many conference participants, others took offense to specific words that were chosen on the list.
Emily Rayfield, current president of SVP, took to Holtz’s post to share that they had been in contact with Convey Services to have the list changed
‘”Wang” is banned but not “Johnson” (both used as slangs),’ explained Z. Jack Tseng, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Assistant Curator in the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley.
‘This western-centric filter erasing the surname of 90+ million Chinese but not <2 million people of European descent is unexpectedly on brand for 2020.’
In an interview with Vice, Tseng shared that he was first amused by the ‘banned’ words before realizing that not all common slang was included.
‘At first, when fellow conference attendees noted on Twitter that ‘Hell’ and ‘bone’ were banned, I was very amused by it,’ Tseng said. ‘I figured the filter was simply over-tuned to prevent many slang words used by schoolchildren from being shown in a professional meeting.’
One user noted that while ‘Wang’ had been banned, words like ‘Johnson’ had not been banned
Tseng was pleased with how fast the leadership for SVP took care of the matter, with Rayfield responding directly to his tweet that the incident was resolved
‘I became disturbed when I saw that the crowd-sourced list of banned words included “Wang.” I personally know of several vertebrate paleontologists by that surname. It didn’t seem right, so I typed in other synonymous slangs into the Q&A platform and realized the bias that I tweeted about.’
Tseng was pleased with how fast the leadership for SVP took care of the matter, with Rayfield responding directly to his tweet that the incident was resolved.
‘In general, text filter algorithms probably involve human decisions at some point in their creation and implementation, so recognizing these biases at the design level, even if it takes more time to develop, would go a long way in creating a more welcoming environment for all participants,’ he said. ‘We are in such a well-connected world today, that our technology should continue to change with the times.’