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Ethics: Are we misusing the terms "master-slave". Do we even have a community / forum in which we can discuss this?
The recent world wide considerations of the diversity challenges in our society has highlighted that we in Engineering can be perpetuating some of the derogatory terms implicit within our use of "Master-Slave" for purely inanimate technical control scenarios. [1 - N]

We have policies on slavery that every volunteer, staff member and Trustee must read and abide to, but it appears we haven't noticed, to any significant extent, our own continued use of "slave" in our writings.

Do we even have a community or forum in which we can discuss this ethical, and publishing issue?

Philip Oakley
[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53273923
[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3243656.stm
[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53050955
[4 ] http://www.jstor.com/stable/40061475   "Broken Metaphor: The Master-Slave Analogy in Technical Literature"
[5] https://www.theiet.org/involved/volunteering-for-the-iet/volunteer-hub/our-policies/anti-slavery-policy/

Aside: Is there some tick box to get notifications of replies sent?
30 Replies
OMS
655 Posts
Are you looking for a problem where one doesn't exist ?

Regards

OMS
> Are you looking for a problem where one doesn't exist ?

Isn't that assertion just ignoring a hazard, without reasonable adaption, in the hope that nobody of alleged importance notices?
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Simon Barker
665 Posts
OMS:
Are you looking for a problem where one doesn't exist ?

Regards

OMS

It looks like enough people consider it to be a problem that people are doing something about it.

When writing software, I prefer terms such as manager-worker.  This conveys the same meaning without the historical baggage and potential to offend.

OMS
655 Posts
Philip Oakley:
Isn't that assertion just ignoring a hazard, without reasonable adaption, in the hope that nobody of alleged importance notices?
 

Not really, Phil - if people are determined enough to be offended, then they will be. For the rest of us, it's pretty easy to see the term without immediate offense taken, because none was intended.

Regards

OMS

OMS
655 Posts

When writing software, I prefer terms such as manager-worker.  This conveys the same meaning without the historical baggage and potential to offend.

Really ? - doesn't it make all sorts of assumptions about managers and workers and who is who and what value each has ?

Regards

OMS

OMS:
Philip Oakley:
Isn't that assertion just ignoring a hazard, without reasonable adaption, in the hope that nobody of alleged importance notices?
 

Not really, Phil - if people are determined enough to be offended, then they will be. For the rest of us, it's pretty easy to see the term without immediate offense taken, because none was intended.
 

However I expect you will be careful not to use Hitler, Adolf, Fuhrer, etc in posts as offence is likely be taken (Godwin's law..)
People are not offended by considered communication. It's the misuse and incorrect association that causes problems. Inanimate objects can't be slaves.

In the past folks have used innocuous words in deliberately racist manner where context is used to convey the derogatory meaning. Removal of the opportunity to miss-contextualise these phrases by using simple phrases which better express the correct engineering intent should be the goal.

Hence my question asking about the correct IET forum for our published literature guidelines, and Ethical phrasing guidelines.
davidwalker2
134 Posts
I would have thought that if you wanted a community opinion, "Ask the Community" would be a reasonable choice.

As for master/slave, I agree with OMS, if people want to see offence they will, I do not find it offensive.  I gather the term "blacklist" is now to be deprecated, and the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen has been labeled " racist fish".  The world has gone mad.

David

 
davidwalker2:

As for master/slave, I agree with OMS, if people want to see offence they will, I do not find it offensive.
The problem that occurred in the past was the misuse of such terms (and commonly other terms) in a context to positively imply a racial intent. By changing away from incorrectly used words, such as "slave" being an inanimate object, we switch from providing a vicious circle of phrasing, to a more virtuous ethic.
weirdbeard:

Member is a derogatory term?

In the wrong context... See various current articles about certain Sports club trainers/coaches and their actions to certain players. 

Simon Barker
665 Posts
I think the mermaid thing is somebody's idea of a joke.

But for a bunch of white people on this forum to say "I don't think master/slave is offensive" is possibly missing the point.
weirdbeard
161 Posts
Thanks for the reply Philip, though I am not entirely sure why I posted to this topic, cheers anyway 🍺
Alex Barrett
721 Posts
The primary usages of the terms 'master' & 'slave' in electronics are for the SPI bus. Whilst SDI and SDO suffer the same lack of clarity as TX/RX for a UART, MISO & MOSI give clarity of direction and purpose. Erasing the word 'slave' from our vocabulary in no way benefits those who have suffered or do suffer under slavery, instead sweeping it under the carpet. I see no benefit, quite the opposite, from this proposal.
weirdbeard
161 Posts

“But for a bunch of white people on this forum to say "I don't think master/slave is offensive" is possibly missing the point.“

Hi Simon, it’s a bit of a stretch to call 2 posters on this topic a “bunch”, and how are you assessing their ethnicity?
weirdbeard
161 Posts
How about male and female connections connotations

So far this topic has had 14 posts and only 37 views from a membership of over 150000!
Simon Barker
665 Posts
weirdbeard:

“But for a bunch of white people on this forum to say "I don't think master/slave is offensive" is possibly missing the point.“

Hi Simon, it’s a bit of a stretch to call 2 posters on this topic a “bunch”, and how are you assessing their ethnicity?

OK, I am only going by those few posters who have chosen to put their faces in their profile.

weirdbeard
161 Posts
Philip Oakley:


Aside: Is there some tick box to get notifications of replies sent?


Alex Barrett:
The primary usages of the terms 'master' & 'slave' in electronics are for the SPI bus. Whilst SDI and SDO suffer the same lack of clarity as TX/RX for a UART, MISO & MOSI give clarity of direction and purpose. Erasing the word 'slave' from our vocabulary in no way benefits those who have suffered or do suffer under slavery, instead sweeping it under the carpet. I see no benefit, quite the opposite, from this proposal.

It's the uncaring association of slavery with inanimate objects and methods, rather than the real suffering of fellow citizens, that provides no benefit. Rather it allows our bad practices regarding some parts of society to continue without thought or comment.

We already have plenty of alternative words: Primary-secondary, leader-follower, main-consequent, etc. 

It's a case where in the past we took a slight deviation which started to tun into a slippery slope of indifference. It's a small course correction, just like small changes in the wiring regs to improve the health, safety and well being of those who interact with our technical products.

weirdbeard:

“But for a bunch of white people on this forum to say "I don't think master/slave is offensive" is possibly missing the point.“

Hi Simon, it’s a bit of a stretch to call 2 posters on this topic a “bunch”, and how are you assessing their ethnicity?

The ensemble of IET membership is "Old White Male", so we (en masse) are not seeing the impact of these (many) wider issues. The Institution is trying to restore the balance with a number of initiatives, most of which are on the 'Promotions & Advertising' side (hoping for outcomes), but not that many on the 'active change' side (giving control input).

Maybe contributors from the 'systems failure' community have some reflections (CEng CPD Reflections..) on this?

Alex Barrett
721 Posts
Philip Oakley:
Alex Barrett:
The primary usages of the terms 'master' & 'slave' in electronics are for the SPI bus. Whilst SDI and SDO suffer the same lack of clarity as TX/RX for a UART, MISO & MOSI give clarity of direction and purpose. Erasing the word 'slave' from our vocabulary in no way benefits those who have suffered or do suffer under slavery, instead sweeping it under the carpet. I see no benefit, quite the opposite, from this proposal.

It's the uncaring association of slavery with inanimate objects and methods, rather than the real suffering of fellow citizens, that provides no benefit. Rather it allows our bad practices regarding some parts of society to continue without thought or comment.

We already have plenty of alternative words: Primary-secondary, leader-follower, main-consequent, etc. 

It's a case where in the past we took a slight deviation which started to tun into a slippery slope of indifference. It's a small course correction, just like small changes in the wiring regs to improve the health, safety and well being of those who interact with our technical products.

Philip, how does avoiding use of the word help those who have suffered or do suffer from slavery?

Philip, how does avoiding use of the word help those who have suffered or do suffer from slavery?

Ahh, the 'facemask' conundrum.  You are pushing the wrong end of the piece of string. It's the deliberate and potentially malicious use of the word to pretend that those who have 'slave' ancestry are to be considered as simply inanimate objects by association that is the issue. At some point it's simply a level of indifference to the effect on others.

In essence it's no different to having children clean under the working looms in the mills of the past. Children were cheap, easily produced and disposable..  Not.

We have better alternatives, lets use them. E2, E1, D1-3, etc.

but I think you may have missed an important event regarding the iet and it’s attitude towards its online community, it has for the last 10 years or so been literally bulldozing through previously active sectors of its online community, and seems to have done all it can to stem the free sharing of opinions and information openly,  hence the reason your topic views number will be embarrasingly low, now at a whopping 57 views, perhaps lobbying the iet twitter or Facebook account might be more productive in your quest?

I think that one is for a separate thread.

I suspect that the change was part of a change in management culture at the time to flatter structures, and the use of 'managers' across the whole of commerce and industry. There was also some changes in Charities guidance and legislation that had broader impacts on management styles (small Trustees board, etc).
Sorry Philip I agree with OMS, I have never seen the terms as derogatory and having worked with folk of colour on site they have also used these terms showing no sign of issue in doing so. We use master and slave when installing voice outlets, not so much now to be honest as systems have changed but they are still available. What I am seeing is, this is in no way aimed at you personally, a lot of white folk finding issue with words and terms that can be seen as derogatory to folk of colour but not all folk of colour will have that same issue as they can easily see it is simply a term and not someone pointing a finger and calling them names. Our society seems to be losing focus on the real issues and seems desperate to be seen to be doing "something" to stop the offended claiming society isn't doing anything, trouble is the "something" isn't ever going to solve the real problem.
If a company feels that the terms are inappropriate then fine, stop using them in its systems, does it need to announce it publically that this is what they intend to do? Does that help anyone or anything other than the PR image of that company?


 
Alex Barrett
721 Posts
Philip Oakley:

Philip, how does avoiding use of the word help those who have suffered or do suffer from slavery?

Ahh, the 'facemask' conundrum.  You are pushing the wrong end of the piece of string. It's the deliberate and potentially malicious use of the word to pretend that those who have 'slave' ancestry are to be considered as simply inanimate objects by association that is the issue. At some point it's simply a level of indifference to the effect on others.

In essence it's no different to having children clean under the working looms in the mills of the past. Children were cheap, easily produced and disposable..  Not.

We have better alternatives, lets use them. E2, E1, D1-3, etc.

Philip, you have a very odd perspective, at least from my point of view. My use of the term "slave" to describe the behaviour of an inanimate object in no way encourages or supports slavery. I don't believe that eradicating the word does anything to eradicate the phenomenon, it simply sweeps it under the carpet.

Gordon Beauchamp:
Sorry Philip I agree with OMS, I have never seen the terms as derogatory and having worked with folk of colour on site they have also used these terms showing no sign of issue in doing so. We use master and slave when installing voice outlets, not so much now to be honest as systems have changed but they are still available. What I am seeing is, this is in no way aimed at you personally, a lot of white folk finding issue with words and terms that can be seen as derogatory to folk of colour but not all folk of colour will have that same issue as they can easily see it is simply a term and not someone pointing a finger and calling them names. Our society seems to be losing focus on the real issues and seems desperate to be seen to be doing "something" to stop the offended claiming society isn't doing anything, trouble is the "something" isn't ever going to solve the real problem.
If a company feels that the terms are inappropriate then fine, stop using them in its systems, does it need to announce it publically that this is what they intend to do? Does that help anyone or anything other than the PR image of that company?
 
We have the same issue with many updated safety practices where those with years of custom and practice experiences feel that what they do doesn't hurt or injure anyone. It's only later, after the small changes that, sometimes, they appreciate where the improvement occurred and why there was an issue with the old customs. real issues are resolved by the slow steady improvement in the environment. There's not a silver bullet solution.

I'd be happy to hear of your other improvements and solutions to the 'real' problems.
Alex Barrett:

Philip, you have a very odd perspective, at least from my point of view. My use of the term "slave" to describe the behaviour of an inanimate object in no way encourages or supports slavery. I don't believe that eradicating the word does anything to eradicate the phenomenon, it simply sweeps it under the carpet.

Who said anything about eradicating the word used to describe a person who is "the legal property of another and who is bound to absolute obedience".

We outlawed that nearly two hundred years ago, though promoted and profited from it for even longer before that. Now we engineers have been saying a slave is just another bit of secondary kit. Let's stop that false association.

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