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 …

Why we should care about the language we use in science

This post first appeared in the ‘On Society’ blog at BioMed Central and is reposted here with permission. *** Brigitte Nerlich and Carmen McLeod at the Synthetic Biology Research Centre at the University of Nottingham have given ‘Responsible Research and Innovation’ a new twist, by focusing on responsible language use. As everybody knows by now, words matter in politics as …

Climate change metaphors: Crimes, detectives and fingerprints

For quite a few years I have written about metaphors in climate change, such as the metaphors of the greenhouse and the footprint. There is one metaphor I overlooked, and that is the one of the ‘fingerprint’. While the carbon footprint metaphor was used in order to get people to act on climate change, making them …

Groundhog day in the hothouse

On 6 August Will Steffen and others published a paper entitled “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”. The paper explores “the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a …