Entries in Personal (4)


War metaphor, what is it good for?

Recent guest blog posts by Dr. Jon Foley (@GlobalEcoGuy) in Scientific American make no mistake: it is a time of war. There is a war on science.

Metaphorically speaking, right?

In “How to Defeat Those Who Are Waging War on Science,” (Feb. 27, 2017), Foley and Christina Arena write, “America has a choice to make. A choice between advancing civilization or bringing it down. A choice between knowledge and chaos. Now, everyone must choose which side they are on."

Dr. Foley seems to be fixated on the metaphor in “War on Science” (Feb. 20, 2017) and in another article, when he warns: “The War on Facts is a War on Democracy” (Jan. 25, 2017). It’s clear he’s armed for confrontation, if not combat.


Dr. Foley is Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences — a beloved institution in Golden Gate Park where my career in development began in 2010. I now stay involved via iNaturalist and volunteer with citizen science projects that monitor tide pools along the California coast.

I can appreciate what Dr. Foley is trying to say and that he thinks in bold terms. However, while the war metaphor might “rally the troops” in military terms, does it really help advance science in realistic ways? Do scientists really want to be viewed as combatants in a war? How does this advance a culture of "safe spaces?"

Personally, I am deeply troubled by headline emphasis on war and it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Dr. Foley, I respectfully ask: Do we really need another war metaphor? Now? Aren’t we divided enough? Doesn’t this just perpetuate more “us versus them” thinking? Isn’t that dehumanizing?

It seems like certain generations of Americans love to talk in terms of war. They understand what that means and it speaks to them. OK, but I think a new generation is looking for better metaphors.

At best, it’s a basic metaphor that does what basic metaphors do: symbolize a concept by evoking imagery. However, at worst, the war metaphor implies indirect and direct violence as a proxy for opposing ideas and values. I highly doubt that Dr. Foley is advocating for violence in his war-on-science approach.

To be clear, I DO think there is a real war going on right now due to climate change, which has real victims and globally requires multi-national alliances and creative solutions fueled by innovations in science and technology, much in the same ways that surfaced globally in World War II — read “A World at War” by Bill McKibben.

But this literal war isn’t quite what Dr. Foley and others mean when they metaphorically talk about a war on science, which is another reason I think a better metaphor would suffice. By calling everything a war – war on drugs, war on poverty, war on (FILL IN THE BLANK) – we lose any effectiveness of the metaphor. It’s tired. I’m tired of it.

Further, conservationists in particular should be careful of "crying wolf” too many times. War as a metaphor is, in my opinion, overplayed and way too simple whereas the situation Dr. Foley is describing is incredibly complex. The war metaphor is also incredibly limiting and I implore life-loving scientists and theorists be more sophisticated than that, if less macho...

In looking for a basic critique of the limitations of the war metaphor, I came across a paper, “On revising conceptual metaphors for argument” (2016) by Erik Isaksson, a student at University of Gothenburg's Department of Philosophy, Linguistics, and Theory of Science. Isaksson argues that there are serious problems with using war as a conceptual metaphor for argument and discusses several limitations, including:

No Fallacies Argument: “Arguments based on the assumption that in war, anything goes. As long as the war metaphor reigns, nothing but winning matters — there are no fallacies in argument.”

Aggression Argument: “Certain types of people (perhaps those afraid of conflict) are driven away from serious philosophical discourse because of how aggressive it is. And " … it stands to reason that the loss of these people entails a loss in knowledge and competence.”

Blindness Argument: “… as we think of argument as war, we lose sight of some non-adversarial goals. We end up competing rather than cooperating."

Isaksson says, "... we would be well served by picking a metaphor which encourages cooperation rather than competition. Furthermore, the metaphor should aid us in accomplishing the primary goal of argument: arriving at the truth together. Testing one party’s idea against another’s in bloody war is certainly one way of doing this, but there might be other ways. Rather than finding the truth (and agreement) by attacking each other until one of us gives way, perhaps it is possible to cooperate towards finding the truth."

In summary, my reasons for opposing the war metaphor include:

  • It creates an “us versus them” dynamic that is dehumanizing.
  • It implies indirect and direct violence as a proxy for opposing ideas and values.
  • It is an overplayed and tired metaphor that is too limiting.
  • It emphasizes that nothing but winning matters.
  • Aggression alienates people and we lose their knowledge and competence as a result.
  • We end up competing instead of cooperating.

If recent marches have taught me anything, it’s that wit is more energetic and effective than the war metaphor. 

Make wit, not war!

At the San Francisco Women’s March in January, the wit levels were over the top! Thanks to the uplifting power of clever wit and humor, I was energized and inspired far more than any tired war metaphor could ever elicit. I’m excited for the upcoming March for Science – San Francisco, where I expect to see the best/worst placards my science-loving, creative community can come up with. I look forward to it!

Let's disarm the tired war metaphor and energize a new generation of FACTIVISTS!

“Out of our labs and into the streets!”

Let’s promote peace above all. Let’s talk. Let’s make our voices heard. And let’s find a better metaphor than war.

Will you join us?


Philanthropy, Technology, and Resolutions

After seeing a recent article in The New York Times posted a number of times on Facebook in Twitter, I decided to give it a look. “Be It Resolved” by John Tierney offers a brief literature review on research related to the success of keeping a New Year’s resolution, or many resolutions, as the case may be, though willpower.

To my surprise, there were some interesting nuggets of philanthropy and technology noted in the article that implicated motivation in ways that I never would have considered.

Late in the article after a somewhat awkward story about the ability of a wealthy hedge fund manager to meet his fitness goals (read: a strange point - unrelated to research - that the ultra-wealthy can hire people to manage their willpower for them), Tierney mentioned a website,, which allows you to set a goal and put money behind it. Basically, if you fail to keep your resolution or meet your goal, they money will be sent to “a friend, a charity, or an anti-charity.”  The example of an anti-charity given in the article was that donation from “a Democrat could be the George W. Bush library. (The Clinton library is available for Republicans.)”

I presume that if you meet the goal in your resolution, you keep you money.  It’s not clear if you can still donate it to charity – or anti-charity – when you’re successful. If you can donate it to a charity if you're successful (or if they just give the money back to you directly to donate on your own), then this could be a wonderful way to fundraise through activity goals, with practical use beyond just resolutions, like one-time races.

This is the first time I’ve really thought about an “anti-charity” concept, much less as a motivational tactic to pursue goals and resolutions. Of course, most of us prefer to give to “good” charities based on good intentions. I guess it might provide a new level of motivation to think that “bad” charities would benefit by our failures.  But I could also see that it makes the whole goal-setting/resolution process more painful (“D’oh! I failed and my anti-charity succeeds at my expense!”).

The other philanthropy-related site listed in the article is, but this one is focused primarily on losing weight. The site is an exercise monitor that makes donation to charity based on how active you are.  The site says:

“At Striiv, we believe helping others is core to improving yourself. That’s why we’ve created a walkathon in every Striiv device that counts your steps and gives based on your movement. At no cost to you, Striiv and corporate partners donate on your behalf. Just walk, earn, and plug into your PC to donate. Its (sic) that simple. You have the choice of 3 charities - providing clean water to families in South America, polio vaccines, and help save the rainforest. The more you walk the more you give.”

I’ve run a few marathons and swam the Alcatraz Channel for various charities, so I can certainly support the idea of coupling philanthropic activism with physical activity. But I’m a little concerned that the charitable beneficiaries are not well explained online – it seems that you can’t even find their names or learn about how and where they give (beyond general parameters like “Bolivia, Tanzania, and India”).

It’s also a bit of a bump in the road to see that in order to participate in their approach, you have to buy a $99 device that tracks your activity. That’s not exactly cheap, considering most pedometers and phone applications cost much less. The software seems to be a large part of the sell, but it seems there is also an essential online component.

Also, it looks like you don’t actually donate your own money directly, since “At no cost to you, Striiv and corporate partners donate on your behalf.” But how much do they donate?  The site seems like an interesting concept, but there are lots of questions I have about the effectiveness of their approach, based on activity and philanthropy.

Let me know if you find any sites that offer the same “walk/run/bike-a-thon” concept online through setting and achieving goals, with easy, secure, linked ways to donate the money.  All the better if you can select the charity of your choice, as it would be quite convenient to document my activity activism and philanthropy over time. There needs to be a philanthropy diary online - anyone?

As for my resolutions? “Give more” is not one of them – I already made my philanthropic budget in 2011 and most of the beneficiaries are to places where I serve on the board of directors. So I don’t plan to turn to either of these sites for direction or motivation. But it’s great to see that charities, anti-charities, and technologies are using philanthropy to advance resolutions, or maybe it’s the other way around; using resolutions to advance philanthropy.

Good luck on those resolutions, friends!


Bozone, Frozone, from the Ozone - I'm Home!

Bridger Mountain Range near Bozeman, Montana.

Forecast tomorrow includes light snow, high: -2°F (-19°C); low: -15°F (-26°C). Let's ski, skate, snowshoe, and sled!


Communities in Common

Out and Equal Workplace Advocates

Out & Equal is proud to announce a new guest writer series, "Communities in Common." This series profiles observations, experiences and events of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of culturally diverse communities.

Adam Bad Wound | November 23, 2010

Adam C. Bad Wound is a sociologist of philanthropy and civil society, as well as a donor to Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. As November is National Native American Heritage Month, Adam shares his experiences and thoughts on LGBT youth in American Indian and rural communities.

I come from Montana’s Big Sky Country, where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. I was raised near three rivers, with crystal clear waters and lush emerald banks, surrounded by ruby willows, under the warm golden sun, sparkling bright in the sapphire sky. My youth was precious, picturesque, and prismatic.

However, many of my hardest memories are of colorless isolation, as I struggled to find my identity in a world that seemed to be black-and-white in so many ways. At times, being a queer American Indian felt like the worst of all possible situations.

According to 2009 Census figures, there were approximately 3.15 million American Indians in the U.S., out of 307 million people – roughly 1% of the population. From 1999 to 2004 (when I was 19-24), American Indian/Alaska Native males in the 15 to 24 year old age group had the highest suicide rate, roughly 28/100,000, compared to 17.5/100,000 for white, 12.8/100,000 for black, and 9/100,000 Asian/Pacific Islander males of the same age. Furthermore, a 2007 study found that LGBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

Taken together, it’s hard for me to reconcile these figures, but easy to understand them personally. Geographic and social isolation were harsh realities of my youth, at times to the point of desperation. In light of recent cyber-bulling events, I can certainly understand how some youth – from any background – might feel trapped in a dark place.

To youth in American Indian and rural communities, I encourage you to remember that LGBT people come from everywhere. My journey has taken me from the mountains, to the plains, Great Lakes, Atlantic Coast, and Pacific Coast. I’ve come to know firsthand that LGBT people come from the middle of nowhere to the middle of San Francisco.

Finally, although it’s been said many times recently, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Although our community is small, there are plenty of resources for support, online and offline. I’m thankful to have embraced my spirit for its natural way, in part by attending gatherings, researching information, and connecting online. Doing so might not change your immediate situation, but it might add a splash of color to a dark night.

Just remember: somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue.

More resources to support LGBT and American Indian LGBT youth include:




See the original post and other guest writer contributions: