Please don’t be a DOOFAAS!

By/par Pauline Barmby
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2016)

If you haven’t seen the Dumb Or Overly Forced Astronomical Acronyms Site (or DOOFAAS) produced by Canadian astronomer Glen Petitpas, go have a look. It’s pretty hilarious. It doesn’t yet list “H0 Lenses in COSMOGRAIL’s Wellspring” (H0LiCOW), which, I have to say, still makes me scratch my head.

In astronomy we like to make up names for our projects, be they instruments, telescopes, surveys, or programs. Often these are clever or silly; usually they are more memorable than the standard space agency three-letter acronym. It’s a way to make a project more fun and to perhaps get it a little more attention when colleagues first hear about it.

It’s possible to go too far with being clever, however. One person’s slightly risqué or edgy name can make others uncomfortable and send the signal that our field is unwelcoming. A well-known example is Source Extractor, a heavily-used astronomy software package that has littered hard drives with “.sex” files for decades[1]. There are other, more recent examples that I won’t dignify by mentioning.

The CASCA meeting Code of Conduct specifically notes that “All communication should be appropriate for a professional audience including people of many different backgrounds. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate.” Other conferences have similar codes. So if you give your project a racy name, the organizers could (and should!) ask you not to mention it by name. This is probably not what you want.

The next time you make up a project acronym, think about the consequences. What messages does it send? Could you talk to a group of 12-year-olds about it without them giggling? How about your university president? When the committee assessing your next job application finds the project name in a Tweet or a Facebook post, what will they think about your character? There are plenty of ways to be creative without being exclusionary, so that people smile rather than grimace when they hear about your project. Please don’t be a DOOFAAS.

[1] Did you know that the configuration files for this program can have any extension? I call mine .cfg.

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