Virtual platform bafflingly bans the word ‘bone’ at paleontology conference

Participants at a virtual paleontology conference were left bemused and frustrated after a profanity filter banned the word ‘bone’.

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), which hosted its annual meeting online due to COVID-19, was hosting a digital Q&A session when it became apparent that certain words were forbidden.

Attendees submitted written questions at the end of presentations but the digital platform used by SVP, Convey Services, filtered out crucial words such as ‘bone’, ‘pubic’, ‘stream’ and ‘sexual’.

“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,” Stephanie Drumheller, a paleontologist at the University of Tennessee told Vice.

“It takes a little time to filter from Twitter to the platform programmers, but it’s getting fixed slowly.”

Thomas R. Holtz Jr., a paleontologist at the University of Maryland even put together a spreadsheet of the banned words.

SVP’s outgoing president Emily Rayfield, who is also a paleobiologist at the University of Bristol told Vice that steps were taken to fix the problem as soon as it became apparent.

“We contacted the virtual platform provider and they rectified the situation promptly—as you can see from the updated spreadsheet,” she said.

While the error was good fun for many, it was also pointed out that some of the banned words may have shown a racial bias.

Z. Jack Tseng, an assistant professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and an assistant curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology pointed out on Twitter that the word ‘Wang’ was banned but not ‘Johnson’.

“Wang” is banned but not “Johnson” (both used as slangs). 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, @SVP_vertpaleo! My PhD advisor is X. **** by the way. #2020SVP,” Tseng pointed out.

Featured image: iStock/microgen