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CEO DATELINE – Profanity filter blocks ‘bone,’ other terms at online paleontology conference

Oct. 15, 2020
By Walt Williams

As more organizations move their events online, one scientific society for paleontologists ran into an unexpected problem during its annual conference when its chat filter censored the words “bone,” “pubic” and other terms commonly used in the field, the news site Vice reported.

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The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology is holding its conference online this week because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants in some of the meeting’s early question and answer sessions noticed their comments were being censored by the profanity filter even though they were using common terms in paleontology, such as “sexual” and “Hell” in Hell Creek, which is the name of a famous fossil formation in Montana.

Stephanie Drumheller, a paleontologist at the University of Tennessee, explained in a Reddit post that the virtual meeting platform  provided by Convey Services came with “a pre-packaged naughty-word-filter.” The meeting’s organizers had to manually approve individual words so they would not get filtered, leading to participants creating a spreadsheet of terms that were blocked.

Among the blocked words were “pubic,” “stroke” and “stream.” One participant noted the filter blocked the Asian name “Wang” but did not block the Western name “Johnson” even though both are slang for male genitalia.

“As soon as we were alerted to this, we took steps to correct it,” Emily Rayfield, the outgoing president of the SVP and a paleobiologist at the University of Bristol, said in an email to Vice. “We contacted the virtual platform provider and they rectified the situation promptly—as you can see from the updated spreadsheet.”