April 1, 2019, by Brigitte Nerlich

Science and Metaphors

Today I gave a lecture on responsible innovation and responsible language use (via Skype) to biochem and synbio students at the University of Oxford. After the lecture, one student asked whether there was a good go-to book on science and metaphor. I hummed and hawed….

There is of course some stuff, but not a really nice handy text book – I think. I might be wrong!

In terms of books there is:

Brown, T. L. (2003). Making truth: Metaphor in science. University of Illinois Press.

Some other books on science and metaphor are referenced in an article on climate change I wrote some years ago:

Nerlich, B. (2015). Metaphors in science and society: The case of climate science and climate scientists. Language and Semiotic Studies 1(2), 1-15.


In terms of articles there is of course more.

One recent article might be used as a starting point to drill down into this topic:

Taylor, C., & Dewsbury, B. M. (2018). On the problem and promise of metaphor use in science and science communicationJournal of Microbiology & Biology Education19(1).

A classic is: Nelkin, D. (2001). Molecular metaphors: the gene in popular discourseNature Reviews Genetics2(7), 555.

On metaphors and synbio (and responsibility), have a look at:

McLeod, C., & Nerlich, B. (2017). Synthetic biology, metaphors and responsibilityLife Sciences, Society and Policy13(1), 13.


I’d love to hear about other recommendations!


Image: Wikimedia Commons: The Flammarion engraving is a wood engraving by an unknown artist that first appeared in Camille Flammarion‘s L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (1888). The image depicts a man crawling under the edge of the sky, depicted as if it were a solid hemisphere, to look at the mysterious Empyrean beyond.

Posted in LanguageMetaphorsScience