Lessons from ‘Woke Fish’

The term “rough fish” is a pejorative that needs to stop being used to describe native fish because it’s contributing to their decline. That was the focus of a study and my recent press release “Cultural Biases Impact Native Fish, Too” that looked at how the white male perspective has shaped modern fisheries.

The story should not have been controversial, but it triggered something in people who tend to think others are overreacting about diversity and equity issues. Rather than earn the deep dives from respected journalists I’d hoped for, it primarily got attention from far right, conservative websites that called our scientists “activists” and made fun of the “woke fish” paper. Someone on Twitter let me know it was the dumbest thing ever written.

While backlash hurts, my takeaway is this: When it’s right, write it anyway.

Writers need to keep telling these stories rather than be discouraged by ignorant feedback or low engagement. Researchers are increasingly investigating the far-reaching impacts of colonialism in every corner of life — from nature to business to religion. I’m excited that science writers like me will have more opportunities to bring what they find to light.

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