Gene drives and Trojan horses: A tale of two metaphor uses

I was reading a recent article on gene drive entitled “Engineering bugs, resurrecting species: The wild world of synthetic biology for conservation” and came across this sentence about a so-called ‘Medea drive’: “This genetic Trojan Horse could then be used to spread elements that confer susceptibility to certain environmental factors, such as triggering the death …

New metaphors for new understandings of genomes

This is a guest post by Sarah Perrault and Meaghan O’Keefe (University of California Davis) based on their article “New metaphors for new understanding of genomes”. The article goes beyond regular complaints about the inadequacy of old metaphors, such as the genome as a blueprint, and beyond regular calls for a new language. Instead, it …

Metaphors and society (and Brexit)

I have been interested in metaphors and society for a long time. My thinking has been influenced mainly by people who wrote about metaphor (and society) at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s; for example, Susan Sontag, Donald Schön, Andrew Ortony, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson and others, who examined ‘conceptual’ or ‘generative’ …

Encounters between life and language

Philip Ball has just written a great article dissecting new research showing that there is no ‘gene for’ homosexuality. He notes the fallacies behind the facile way of pointing to individual genes and saying what they are ‘for’. This is dangerous, especially when talking about genes for behavioural traits. Single genes don’t determine such traits …

When is a metaphor not a metaphor?

A few weeks ago Daniel Nicholson posted an article on twitter entitled “Are cells really machines?” This made me think, and I wrote a blog post pondering the relations between science, metaphors and technology. In this post I want to reflect on another aspect of the relation between science and metaphors, namely on when metaphors …

Metaphors, machines and the meaning of life

Machine metaphors are ubiquitous in biology, nowhere more so than in synthetic biology, a type of biology that is inspired by engineering and design. This has attracted the attention of metaphor analysts, but also of philosophers and ethicists. Various scholars, both from the humanities/social sciences and the life sciences have grappled with some of the …

Witness marks: On the trail of an epigenetic metaphor

This is a guest post by Aleksandra Stelmach, University of Nottingham, Institute for Science and Society In a previous post Brigitte Nerlich and I briefly discussed the emergence of a seemingly new metaphor used in popular discussion about epigenetic effects of nutrition on offspring and, potentially, future generations. In this post I try to track …

It’s an icon, it’s a symbol: It’s a polar bear!?

A while ago Saffron O’Neill asked me whether one should call polar bear images a climate change synecdoche or a climate change metonym? That was a good question and I should know the answer! Indeed she asked me because she thought I was an expert on that sort of stuff! I have written about metaphors. I …

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 …

Talking organelles: A riot of metaphors

A few days ago, somebody tweeted an article on organelles and somebody else tweeted an article on how worms regenerate their bodies. I was just in a slump of Brexit malaise when I saw this and thought, “oh, there is life outside Brexit at least in worms and cells”. So, I started to read an …