Protecting the pubic

2 minute read

Algorithms don’t make the best profanity police.

How do you hold a boneless paleontology conference?

Attendees at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s virtual 80th annual meeting were presented with this poser as they used the online platform, whose text obscenity filter was set to 17th-century Puritan.

They kept finding their innocent words replaced with stars, a treatment usually reserved for the naughtiest swears but in this case extended to “pubic”, “stream” and most problematically “bone”.

“Words like ‘bone,’ ‘pubic,’ and ‘stream’ are frankly ridiculous to ban in a field where we regularly find pubic bones in streams,” one attendee told Vice.

“All software plug-ins are going to have filters in to make sure you don’t get out of control,” said Carolyn Bradfield, chief executive of Convey Services, the company hired by the society, according to The New York Times. “In that particular case, the filter was too tight … I don’t know why in the world the word ‘bone’ was in there.”

Another attendee posted a non-exhaustive list on Twitter of the algorithm’s forbidden words, and if you can get through it without snorking like a 10-year-old, The Back Page salutes you.

It includes “hell”, “jerk”, “knob”, “stroke”, “ball”, “crack”, “enlargement”, “flange”, and “Wang” – but not “Johnson”, upsetting one professor of Chinese background:

Also “enterococcus”.

It makes us wonder how all those online medical conferences are going:

If you see something stupid, say something stupid … send **redacted** to

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