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The Wall Street Journal claims that this document is a legitimate initiative of Stanford University.

It recommends, for example, that the term "blind study", widely used in experimental trials to avoid bias, should be replaced by "masked study" because it "Unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture." Though it is really hard for me to see by what logic that conclusion is derived.

OK, it also recommends against the use of terms like "retard" which seem perfectly reasonable as the word is undeniably prejudiced in most actual use describing people (but is also a perfectly useful neutral term in physics or mechanics).

But it also calls for a stop to the casual use of the word "guru" as this might offend Buddhists and Hindus where it is a term of respect. I thought it was a term of respect in most uses. It also recommends not using terms like "black-box" or "cakewalk" for reasons I find hard to take seriously.

Is this a serious document? Is it a subtle parody?


PS There are some issues about how the original story was reported in the media as an outrageous overreach by woke academics. The WSJ neglected to mention some details about the source to make it seem more like a Policy Statement by overly woke university academics.

What they should have noted was that it was more like a "style guide" produced by the internal IT team (see the explanation in this blog from Stanford Academic Adrian Daub.)

This observation doesn't alter the question but it might mitigate the degree of anti-woke outrage some seem to feel about it.

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While Brian's answer was correct when they posted it 13 hours ago, as of now Stanford has apparently backpedaled:

The feedback that this work was broadly viewed as counter to inclusivity means we missed the intended mark. It is for this reason that we have taken down the EHLI site.

Source: the same link as in Brian's answer. EHLI is "Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative", Stanford's name for the initiative in question.

So: the website clearly isn't a spoof, but Stanford also seems less than committed to and convinced by the whole thing.

To provide a little more context as an academic working in IT: there has been an ongoing debate about technical terminology such as "master/slave" or "blind studies" for a while now, so this initiative certainly did not come out of nowhere.

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    The EHLI document seemed to originate specifically from and focus on the IT department, with the limited intention of eliminating this language specifically from official Stanford University communication, web pages, documents, press releases, etc. The grandiose name of the initiative made it seem a lot more far-reaching than it actually seems to have been. Also if you actually go through the list, the majority of the recommendations are very reasonable. The most alarming thing about it is that they cite the Wikipedia "list of slurs" page as a source, which suggests a lack of effort and care. Jan 5, 2023 at 19:38
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    What do you mean Brian's answer "was" correct? It is correct. Walking something back doesn't retroactively change it into a spoof. Jan 7, 2023 at 18:24
  • The question asks "is it real" so if it has been rescinded it is clearly no longer real.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 30, 2023 at 11:05
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    @StuartF I would argue the opposite - you don't have to rescind something that's not real. That Stanford rescinded it clearly demonstrates that it's not some sort of fake news. Rescinding what you published 2 months ago doesn't retroactively alter reality, it just shows that you are not longer of that opinion.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 28, 2023 at 11:40
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This is a real initiative. Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative is (or rather, was) hosted on Stanford's website.

The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) is a multi-phase, multi-year project to address harmful language in IT at Stanford. EHLI is one of the actions prioritized in the Statement of Solidarity and Commitment to Action, which was published by the Stanford CIO Council and People of Color in Technology (POC-IT) affinity group in December 2020 as part of the IDEAL IT strategic initiative.

Edit: As of January 4, 2023 (the link in my original answer was working on January 5, but I'm deferring to Stanford's timestamp), the initiative website has been taken down:

The feedback that this work was broadly viewed as counter to inclusivity means we missed the intended mark. It is for this reason that we have taken down the EHLI site.

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