My colleagues and I have recently submitted an article in a biology-oriented journal about a new technological system. While describing the interaction between the different modules of the system, we used the terms "master" and "slave", as it describes the communication protocol in a very comprehensive manner.
One reviewer raised an issue that these terms were not suitable for publication in an academic journal, without proposing an alternative wording.
We understand that writing a text aimed at being read by a broad community of people imposes a high degree of decency, and that's of course what we always tried to do. Given the context it is extremely clear that these terms are used to describe an interaction between to electronical devices, and are in no way a reference to slavery. We are Europeans, and have never heard of any controversy on this. Also, the "master/slave" terms have been and are still widely used in engineering lingo.
So we have two questions regarding this situation:
- Is there an alternative wording that we could use, still expressing clearly the same idea?
- More generally, do authors have to write politically-correct articles, even though this not a very well-defined notion and can significantly vary from one region of the world to another?
We don't really want to enter into a long discussion with the reviewer on this particular point, so the latter question is more something of general interest about what one should have in mind when writing an article.
Thanks for the numerous answers and comments, this is really helpful. Since I can choose only one answer as the good one, it's the one that proposes a useful alternative. We believe that the most problematic word in this case is "slave" and not "master", so we'll propose the terms "master/worker" as a replacement for our article.
In addition, a thought I had in the meantime is that using these terms as adjectives instead of nouns may help a little bit. A "slave device" may be a slightly softened wording than simply a "slave" (though not resolving the issue). More importantly, I feel that "master device" and "worker device" are expressing the general relationship between the modules in a clearer way than simply "master" and "worker".
For the more general question about PC, it seems to be still an open question. As suggested in one answer, this certainly desserves some changes in our writing practices now and then.