Biononsense

After reading this article about human genetic engineering, I have to comment on something that’s been bugging me for a while now. The article is inoffensive enough, but it uses the term ‘biogenetics’. I’m sorry, but there is no such field as biogenetics; it’s either genetics or nothing, and there’s no use in trying to make it more sexy by putting a bio- in front of it.

I suppose you could make an argument that not all genetics is necessarily biological, but it wouldn’t be a good one. If you go to any university in the world and check out their genetics department, you’ll find that they’re studying biological organisms. Kids: don’t use the word biogenetics. In fact, whenever you feel the urge to prepend a word with ‘bio’, think long and hard.

This reminds me of an email exchange I had with Brad DeLong about overuse of the word ‘cognitive’:

Me:

Off Topic: I note that Brad has made a post about Cognitive Economics on his blog. I am most disappointed at this; not at the post, but at the use of the word ‘cognitive’. It seems as if everyone and his dog is using ‘cognitive’ – there are cognitive radios, cognitive networks, cognitive economics… all you people should get your grubby hands off the word and leave it where it belongs, in cognitive (neuro)science. Grumble. Just because you all wished you were in the cool gang.

But seriously. I know that we’ve had buzzwords for centuries, but dammit, this time it’s personal. In times past, you wouldn’t call it a cognitive radio, you’d call it an ‘intelligent radio’ or adaptive radio or whatever. There’s nothing cognitive about it. Ditto for ‘cognitive economics’. Whatever happened to ‘psychology’ or ‘value judgements’ eh? Damn kids…

Brad:

Jeebus!!!! We economists make one little foray into buzzword-land to try to land some few small drops of water from the firehose of funding being directed by the NSF and others at the “cognitive sciences,” and what happens?

It’s not so much that we wish we were in the cool gang (actually, we do–but put that to one side: most economists felt in college that they didn’t have the mathematical firepower to do nat sci, and still feel ashamed and inferior), as WE WANT SMALL POOLS OF RESEARCH MONEY, DAMMIT!!!

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