Facepalm: An eminent paleontology society was plagued this week by an over-eager profanity filter during their socially distanced industry conference. Other banned words included "stream," "beaver," "iffy," and "stroke."
The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology gathered for its annual meeting this week. In true 2020 fashion, this conference was held virtually, containing daily presentations and follow-up, written Q&A sessions.
The conference's virtual meeting platform was provided by Convey Services, who include a profanity filter pre-built into their communication systems. It was made clear in an r/askreddit page about the event that this filter was tuned a bit too strong.
Words like "Bone," "sexual," and "Hell" were censored to users, the latter often used in discussions of an important site at Hell Creek. Stephanie Drumheller, a paleontologist from the University of Tennessee, in the subreddit Q&A, explained that most of the censorship was quite amusing, and the attendees managed to find workarounds to continue their discussions. "My personal favorite was Heck Creek for Hell Creek," said Drumheller.
The system was evidently designed for business and industry events rather than science gatherings, and attendees were feeding back unfortunate censorships to Convey Services for correction as the week continued. Attendees made a list on Google Docs of all the banned words they encountered.
"Words like 'bone,' 'pubic,' and 'stream' are frankly ridiculous to ban in a field where we regularly find pubic bones in streams," said Brigid Christison, a biology Master's student attending the event.
Other unexpected restrictions were less funny, as discovered by an assistant professor in biology at UC Berkeley, Z. Jack Tseng. "At first, when fellow conference attendees noted on Twitter that 'Hell' and 'bone' were banned, I was very amused by it," Tseng said in an email to Vice. "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."
Tseng later put out a tweet, frustrated that "Wang," the surname of over 90 million Chinese, was banned, while the common Western surname Johnson, equally phallically synonymous, was not.
Even half a year into this new existence of Zoom calls, pre-recorded release events, and online conferences, we can still expect some pretty funny and unfortunate mishaps.
Image credit: Glen Millen