Squirrel hanging from branch trying to get at berries

December 9, 2022, by Brigitte Nerlich

Making Science Public 2022: End of year round-up of blog posts

This is now the 10th time that I have written an overview of the blog posts I have published over the preceding year. Phew! How time flies. Strangely, this year has been quite productive. I have posted more stuff about Covid, of course, but also about monkey pox, as well as about climate change, gene drive, metaphor, politics, history of science and space. I wrote two short book reviews and, unfortunately, one obituary.

Chris Toumey

The beginning of the year was marked by the unexpected death of my friend and colleague Chris Toumey with whom I shared a passion for nanoscience and visualisation. This was a really sad loss. He inspired me so much in my work on nano images and I miss his help and support.


I still had quite a lot to say about the pandemic and its aftermath. I grappled, like many others, with a variety of new and potentially confusing concepts such as ‘endemic’, ‘superimmunity’, and ‘immunity debt’.

I summarised some book chapters I have written about Covid metaphors, with one devoted to the invasion metaphor, and one special issue which contains chapters on Covid metaphors from around the world. I wrote one post on various new metaphors for the Omicron variant of Covid.

I also pondered the issue of learning during pandemics and the issue of lockdowns, freedom and responsibility, especially towards others who, like those with compromised immune systems, might be less privileged in terms of health than others and less free.


A zoonotic disease, monkeypox, now renamed mpox, normally endemic in parts of Africa surprised everybody by sweeping around the globe this summer. The outbreak affected one particular network of people in particular, namely men who have sex with men. This posed a lot of communication issues around how to inform people without stigmatising.

Just after the disease emerged, I wrote a post in which I just tried to get this disease clear in my mind. There are, I bet, much better overviews around now. Then I became interested, as usual, in metaphors surrounding the threat of monkeybox ‘arriving’ on our ‘doorstep’. I became even more fascinated by the images of sores and lesions (what I called poxpics) that symptomatic sufferers began to circulated quite openly in order to destigmatise that which could have stigmatised people even more. It was great to see how the community affected mobilised its own resources to inform, instruct, warn and deal with stigma.

Climate change

This year, climate change became rather personal again. Last year it was flooding in Germany; this year it was wildfires in New Mexico. So, I wrote a post about extreme weather communication more generally and one post reflecting on the very effective communication effortsI witnessed (second hand) in New Mexico, which was fascinating.

I reflected on how new words and concept are changing our climate and weather language, such as rivers of rain or rain bombs for example. I wrote something like a history of the concept of ‘tipping point’. And finally I wrote a post about this year’s IPCC report which demonstrates that revving about the warnings and changing the language of warnings doesn’t seem to really work without equipping people with ways of coping. Shouting adaptation is not enough.

Gene drive

I still composed a couple of blog posts about gene drive, an issue that had preoccupied me more in previous years as part of a Wellcome Trust project. This year, some ‘real’ articles were coming out that needed to be put on the map, one exploring gene drive in the press and one analysing how gene drive experts actually talk about gene drive and what metaphors they use.

More metaphors

I also wrote more widely about certain metaphors and related issues that struck me as important in the current political context. One example was the trickle down metaphor that former PM Liz Truss used and that went so badly wrong, the other the ‘invasion metaphor’ used by our home secretary and its implications.

And, of course, there is the awful war of invasion affecting Ukraine. At the beginning of the war, the whole world came to know Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag and began, as I called it, to see the world ‘as’ Ukraine. Seeing something as something else is the core of metaphor and the core of how we understand the world.

More enjoyably, I also looked at how scientists actually use metaphors in real life, coming back a bit to what I did for gene drive metaphors.

Old stuff

At the beginning of the year, I came across a tweet by Richard Fallon, author of Creatures of another Age asking for help with finding out where a puzzling illustration, picturing gnomes and an ichthyosaur in a cave came from. That got me digging into gnomes, ichthyosaurs and, of course, science communication – something I really relished.

In the summer, I became fascinated by the work of the Victorian traveller and botanical illustrator Marianne North and dug again a bit more deeply into her life and work and her beautiful paintings that made botany public and can now be admired in Kew Gardens.


Various events in space also got me away from doomscrolling this year, one involving asteroid deflection and another the wonderful James Webb telescope and the stunning images it is sending down to us earthlings.


I loved reading two wonderful books, one by Andrew Reynolds on how to understand metaphors in the life sciences and another by Andrea Wulf which tells the story – love, gossip and all – about a bunch of German romantics that set philosophical and political thinking on fire at the end of the 18th century.


Towards the very end of the year, Twitter was in danger of being destroyed and alternatives were being explored. So I investigated one of them, Mastodon. I am now using both platforms and it’s like reading two quite different newspapers in the morning, which is fun.


I wish you all a warm, healthy and peaceful end of the year – something one can’t take for granted in the world we live in – and a happy new year – which I hope will be better for everybody around the world than previous years!!!



Posted in Climate Changecoronavirusgene drivehistory of scienceimages and visualisationsinfectious diseasesLanguageMetaphors