This paper discusses the role of metaphors as important ‘tools of communication’, that evoke a set of shared images and cultural common places on science and technology, and provide a common ground (Maasen & Weingart, 2000) for the various discourses in society. Metaphors, such as perceiving "scientific progress as a journey", "cloning as taking copies" or "genome as a text, and genes the alphabet of life" are widely used by scientists, journalists and the publics alike. Yet, such metaphors often mean different things in the various discourses.

Building upon my previous case studies on Human Genome Project, cloning and stem cell research, I argue that most of our popular metaphors of science and technology are rooted in the past experiences of the cultural group using the metaphor, and function as important carriers of cultural myths and popular images of science over time. Science’s ‘journey’, for example, does not refer to cross‐Atlantic flights from a city A to a city B, and back to the city A. instead, it often suggests images of science conquering new territories. Similarly, it would not make sense to metaphorise genome as a text, if 'text' would mean a set of ephemeral texts in the Internet. Rather, ‘texts’ carry connotations of civilization and the library of Alexandria. So far, the role of metaphors in bridging the past and present commonplaces of a group of people has not been studied in detail.

My results point to a wide popularity of metaphors that build up temporal discrepancies, but also to systematic differences in the type of temporal discrepancies across journalistic and scientific publications. More in detail, in newspaper articles, intended for wide audiences, the temporal discrepancy between the two parts of the metaphors seemed much wider than in scientific articles intended for specialised, scientific audiences.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Popular metaphors of science and technology
Building bridges over time?

Iina Hellsten   University of Nottingham

This paper discusses the role of metaphors as important ‘tools of communication’, that evoke a set of shared images and cultural common places on science and technology, and provide a common ground (Maasen & Weingart, 2000) for the various discourses in society. Metaphors, such as perceiving "scientific progress as a journey", "cloning as taking copies" or "genome as a text, and genes the alphabet of life" are widely used by scientists, journalists and the publics alike. Yet, such metaphors often mean different things in the various discourses.

Building upon my previous case studies on Human Genome Project, cloning and stem cell research, I argue that most of our popular metaphors of science and technology are rooted in the past experiences of the cultural group using the metaphor, and function as important carriers of cultural myths and popular images of science over time. Science’s ‘journey’, for example, does not refer to cross‐Atlantic flights from a city A to a city B, and back to the city A. instead, it often suggests images of science conquering new territories. Similarly, it would not make sense to metaphorise genome as a text, if 'text' would mean a set of ephemeral texts in the Internet. Rather, ‘texts’ carry connotations of civilization and the library of Alexandria. So far, the role of metaphors in bridging the past and present commonplaces of a group of people has not been studied in detail.

My results point to a wide popularity of metaphors that build up temporal discrepancies, but also to systematic differences in the type of temporal discrepancies across journalistic and scientific publications. More in detail, in newspaper articles, intended for wide audiences, the temporal discrepancy between the two parts of the metaphors seemed much wider than in scientific articles intended for specialised, scientific audiences.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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