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Editing a manuscript of mine, a co-author changes "selection pressure" to "selective pressure". Are those two terms interchangeable? Or are there subtle differences that I'm not aware of?

The sentence under consideration: "In contrast, gene expression changes during development and tissue formation are under high selection/selective pressure."

FWIW, "selection pressure" is a bit more popular in the literature.

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  • $\begingroup$ I had a colleague that was against the use of "pressure" altogether - I can't fully remember his argument but it was a long the lines of just saying selection is correct grammatically, and selection is not a type of pressure. I feel he is fighting a losing battle though because its becoming more common. You might get a better justified response on the English language SE. $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ Selective/selection is being used as an adjective to qualify 'pressure'. My gut feeling is that is better to avoid using a noun (selection) as an adjective, so selective is to be preferred. $\endgroup$
    – Alan Boyd
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ From a grammar standpoint I would think that "selection pressure" is a compound noun. But I was looking for a biological answer, if one is more appropriate than the other. $\endgroup$ Commented May 6, 2014 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ Could you possibly give the sentence it is in? $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say "subject to strong selection" $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:06

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As far as online references are concerned, they should be equivalent (as "selective" becomes "making a selection"). The important difference in my understanding is that speaking in terms of biology, "selection" triggers associations with evolutionary terminology, whereas "selective" doesn't. Thus, as far as I am concerned, "selective pressure" could be referring to some machine that has a method of applying pressure to one thing but not another, whereas "selection pressure" immediately makes me think of factors benefitting the proliferation of one thing over another. Hence I would personally prefer "selection pressure".

Given the ambiguity, you probably won't be able to make all readers happy with either of the two. Thus, it might be best just to use a different phrasing as suggested e.g. by rg255 ("subject to selection").

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    $\begingroup$ ... if you do say "subject to strong selection" does this make me a co-author??? @michaelkuhn ;) $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ I think second author at least! :P $\endgroup$
    – Armatus
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ let me think about it :) $\endgroup$ Commented May 13, 2014 at 12:19

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