// Latest Posts

Scientists do metaphor

I was idly browsing my Twitter timeline recently (probably for the last time), when my eyes fell on some tweets by Buzz Baum, a cell biologist, saying that he had spoken about metaphor on a BBC radio programme (oh, I thought!) which unfortunately had now been deleted from BBC Sounds (oh no, I thought). He …

‘It’s not a retoot is it?’ Moving between platforms and languages

The question in the title was asked by Aris Katzourakis on Mastodon, the now well-known decentralized social network built on open web standards by a non-profit. In this little post I’ll tell the story of how I came to explore a new social world, including a new language. *** I joined Twitter about a decade …

Invasion as a metaphor

On 31 of October Suella Braverman, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, said, according to Hansard, the official report of all Parliamentary debates: “The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast, and which party is not.” ‘Invasion’ is generally defined as the “action of invading …

What’s in a name? On embryology, developmental biology and discipline naming

Last week Philip Ball asked an interesting question on Twitter which provoked a lot of responses and comments: “when did ‘embryology’ start to become ‘developmental biology’? I bet Philip will post an excellent answer to that question soon. I am not Philip and I am not a historian of biology; I am just a magpie. …

Asteroids: Angst, amazement and avarice

On planet earth it is extremely difficult to change people’s, especially politicians’, behaviour to avert, say, climate catastrophe. Not so in space. Here humans boldly achieve the unthinkable, namely changing the motion of something that’s going in a dangerous direction. What I am talking about is, of course, NASA’s “first-ever mission dedicated to investigating and …

Resisting metaphors: The case of trickle-down economics

I have recently been corresponding with Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, a metaphor researcher who is developing a theory of metaphor resistance. Ahmed is looking at how producers of metaphors deal with metaphor failure in various ways (denying it was a metaphor, reinterpreting it etc.) and how metaphor audiences or viewers can resist metaphors, be they verbal or …

Andrea Wulf’s ‘Magnificent Rebels’ (2022)

The situation in this country and around the world is quite depressing and I wondered what could cheer me up. Then I started to read Andrea Wulf’s Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self and that did the trick (I had previously read her biography of Alexander von Humboldt and enjoyed that too). …

Tipping point

Over the past 15 years or so, the use of the term ‘tipping point’ has exploded in the scientific literature. My current interest was sparked by a new paper on tipping points published in Science. The lead author is David Armstrong McKay, a University of Exeter Earth systems scientist, and the paper is an update …

Science, communication, politics and power

I haven’t written about science communication for a while. It’s a thorny subject. But a few days ago, Ken Rice posted some musings on science communication which made me think. He argues that when ‘we’ (I suppose he means individuals or nations or indeed policy makers) don’t “deal with various societal problems as well as …

Monkeypox and metaphors

Again and again, I have come across standard ways of metaphorically framing infectious diseases and their spread, be it foot and mouth disease, avian influenza, swine flu, SARS, Zika, Covid, and now monkeypox. War and invasion metaphors are used abundantly, but also fire, wave and flood metaphors, landscape metaphors like valleys and peaks and much …