Leter to Nature: Stop using the offensive virus names

Use the no-harm name please.

Stop using the offensive virus names

Inappropriate naming of the new human disease inevitably causes prejudice and discrimination upon particular people and undue fear of the diseases on global social media, although unintentionally.

After the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) causing a severe respiratory illness, some of the research papers and news on nature (such as Nature 577, 450 (2020), Nature 577, 605-607 (2020), doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00146-w, doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00180-8, doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00253-8 and doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00262-7 ) and other media used “China Coronavirus", “Wuhan Coronavirus", even “Chinese Virus". Such inappropriate naming did not only lead to affronted counteraction in Chinese social media, but also armed the notorious sinophobia and anti-Asian racism around the world. The people in the region suffering short-term contagious virus now will be stigmatized by far-reaching hostility from outside.

I propose the editors, journalists and researchers on nature and broad science community to avoid such inappropriate names of any current and future human infectious diseases or viruses. Even though it is difficult and time-consuming to rename the diseases and viruses we named before, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), Spanish flu, Ebola Virus, we must take immediate action of adapting no-harm names.

In 2015, for minimizing “unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups”, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidelines that suggested scientists, journalist and health officials to use more neutral, generic terms to name new human diseases. The guideline is applicable to any unrecognized infections, syndromes, viruses, and diseases of humans that unreported in human and harm human health potentially.

In scientific communities, such as The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine, the “2019 novel coronavirus” is referenced dominantly, which is the no-harm name describing the 2019-nCoV. As the names of the new diseases and viruses will make their way into human history, we must select the more neutral and non-offensive names methodically.

After one week, I got reply:

Thank you for your submission to Correspondence. We have received a large number of letters relating to the new coronavirus, many of which make overlapping points or points already covered by our reporters. We have therefore chosen a representative sample for publication.

The wrong names are still on Nature.com, I will continue doing my best to let them correct them.

Lele Shu
Ph.D, Hydrologist, Lead of SHUD project

Hydrologist on distributed numeric hydrologic modeling, impact of landuse and climate change, Coupled Nature-Human-System