Musings on language and life, with special reference to ‘programming’

This morning I opened the newspaper and read an article about a new language that lets researchers design novel biological circuits. I mumbled something about this over coffee and my husband said, oh but wasn’t that old hat, we all knew that DNA was a language, code etc. So what was new? I looked again …

On books, circuits and life

I have recently been trying to understand CRISPR, gene editing and genome editing. While reading about these new developments in genomics, I noticed that in the avalanche of news reports reference is only rarely made to synthetic biology (on 5 January there were 188 articles on CRISPR in Major World Newspapers on the LexisNexis news …

On the metaphorical origins of gene drives

This morning I woke up to a bit of chat about ‘gene drive‘ – this year’s science breakthrough of the year –, first on twitter, then on the radio. This made me think about the use of terms like gene drive, gene driver, gene driving and where they come from. It also made me think …

Making epigenetics public: A problem with metaphors

This article has been co-authored with Aleksandra Stelmach Two years ago, in May 2013, I wrote a blog post about epigenetics. This was at a time when social scientists started to be interested in this new field of genetics/genomics and began to critically scrutinize it. Now, two years later and after a flurry of social …

Paddling in the shallow end of knowledge

This post was prompted by two things. I, a social scientist of sorts, recently tried to read two books, Smashing Physics by Jon Butterworth and Synthetic Biology: A Primer by Paul Freemont and Richard Kitney. I also listened in to some conversations where people spoke about how problematic they find it to understand social science …

Making weather personal

I was idly reading The Observer on Sunday (2 March, 2014), when I happened to glance at an article about the Scottish island of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. I read: “The past few months, too, have shown how vulnerable an island community is when the weather becomes truculent”. Truculent I thought; that’s …

Science as a cultural institution: The role of metaphors

I have recently discovered some (old) books written by Jacob Bronowski, scientist and science communicator, which are a real joy to read. I wrote a blog post based on them where I explored issues around science and values; I also promised to write something about his views of metaphor. Finding likenesses For Bronowski science and …

More heat than light? Climate catastrophe and the Hiroshima bomb

There has been some discussion on Twitter today (14 August) about the wisdom or otherwise of measuring the heat being retained by the Earth in terms of Hiroshima bombs. The analogy is presented by John Cook and Dana Nuccitelli on their Skeptical Science blog, drawing on an academic paper by Church et al to describe the heat …

Abseiling down the climate cliff metaphor

Since its very beginning in the 1980s, public discourse about climate change has been structured by metaphors. We had the greenhouse effect, the carbon footprint, the hockey stick, the tipping point, and we also had climategate; and to these metaphors we can now add the ‘climate cliff’ (which one can almost see as an upside …