Acronyms and acrimony

Mario Roederer Roederer at
Tue Aug 11 11:33:34 EST 1998

I too was going to avoid this discussion, but Frank Traganos' comments pushed me
right off the edge.

First of all, I use the term FACS quite frequently.  And I think, Frank, that
would break your proposed correlation that my usage correlates with my ignorance
of  "all things having to do with flow cytometry."  Of course, perhaps you would
argue that I know nothing about flow cytometry.

The fact is, FACS is an easy-to-use acronym that has become common usage.  This
is not a first in the english language, and, in fact, it is not even the most
egregious in flow cytometry!  How many of you refer to your fluorescein
conjugated antibodies as FITC?  I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that >90% of those
who complain about the term "FACS" have published papers that are littered
generously with the mis-used acronym FITC, such as "We stained these cells with
FITC CD3 and solved the grand unified field theory."

FITC stands for fluorescein isothiocyanate.  There is no isothiocyanate in the
conjugate; it is cleaved during the conjugation reaction.  We NEVER measure FITC
fluorescence by flow cytometry.  And yet, I hear no complaints about the use of
the term FITC, which is probably used one or two orders of magnitude more than
the term FACS!

So, why the great big hubbub about the acronym FACS?  Perhaps it's because BD
trademarked the term.  (As Len Herzenberg is fond of pointing out, BD did this
without his permission--Len coined the term many years ago in a publication; BD
liked it and used it for their excellent line of sorters... as well as
nonsorting analyzers). 

As others have pointed out though, the term has become so commonplace that we
might as well accept it as a term for "flow cytometry analysis".  And anyone who
disagrees with this better not have published a paper with the acronym "FITC",
lest they be considered hypocritical.


(PS.  The discussion about the word "activated" is inane.  Of course the sorting
is fluorescence activated.  Often it is scatter-light activated as well (or
instead).  No one ever claimed that every acronym needs to be completely,
scientifically precise in order to be used:  it need only convey information
that everyone comprehends.)

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