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Book Review: Communicating Biological Sciences - Ethical and Metaphorical Dimensions

22 March 2010

By Dr Marianne Kennedy

Appeared in BioNews 551

Communicating Biological Sciences: Ethical and Metaphorical Dimensions

Edited by Richard Elliott, Dr Brendon Larson and Professor Brigitte Nerlich

Published by Ashgate Publishing

ISBN-10: 0754676323, ISBN-13: 978-0754676324

Buy this book from Amazon UK

'Communicating Biological Sciences: Ethical and Metaphorical Dimensions' edited by Richard Elliott, Dr Brendon Larson and Professor Brigitte Nerlich


My first impression of this book was that the title smacks of a dull read. On the contrary, however, this book provides a stimulating awakening into one of the challenges facing science writing today, namely the use of metaphor: its purpose in communication and consequences for science and public understanding.

A book that leaves a lasting impression on a reader, in particular one that will actively affect future action, is certainly a worthy read. This book ticks the boxes on all those counts. It challenges the use of otherwise unquestioned common metaphors such that one will never describe a piece a research as a 'breakthrough' or pun on the word 'Frankenstein' again lightly. Indeed never before did I appreciate quite how metaphor-ridden science media is or how often I find myself using such metaphors unknowingly. Food for thought, certainly.

Contributors to the book include journalists, scientists and literary analysts and thereby insightful perspectives are gained from many sides. As such, it is an eye-opener for a wide audience: the public, for whom metaphors often over-hype a piece of scientific research, and scientists, for whom the use of metaphor may mould thinking on a given concept. In particular, I enjoyed Fiona Fox's insight into the recently formed Science Media Centre, an organisation set up specifically with the aim of closing the gap between science and the public by increasing the quality of reporting.

My only criticism would be the sometimes heavy use of eloquent language and subtle references which I thought masked clarity of meaning in some places and I often found myself re-reading passages to extract understanding. However, on perseverance one certainly emerges with a more cautious approach to scientific reporting and a more sceptical eye when reading the science media; an increasingly valuable skill in an era of exponential rise in scientific discovery. The book is one of the first of its kind and will be a valuable asset to science journalism; there has been little consideration of the ethical practice of modern day science portrayal to date.

I would recommend to those with an interest in science writing, journalism and the media. Although the content would also be of value to a pure scientist, many chapters may be a bit heavy-duty unless they have a prior interest in literary analysis.


Buy Communicating Biological Sciences: Ethical and Metaphorical Dimensions from Amazon UK.

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