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“Progressive” evolution and “totipotent” stem cells: metaphors in British and German debates about the “life sciences”

Author(s): Andreas Musolff

Journal: Ibérica
ISSN 1139-7241

Volume: 17;
Start page: 45;
Date: 2009;
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Keywords: embryonic stem cell | evolution | genetics | metaphor | popular science

The article analyses the role of metaphor and simile in representations of evolution and genetics in British and German popular science and media publications. It focuses on the metaphors of PROGRESS, AGENCY and POTENCY which are used to interpret concepts such as “evolution”, “gene” and “stem cell”. such metaphors are often presented as being imbued with scientific authority. We shall review these claims with special regard to the popular views of evolution as a “progressive” movement and to topical debates about embryonic stem (es) cell research in Britain and Germany. on the basis of data from a pilot corpus, we propose that in British public discourse, es cells tend to be depicted mainly as “objects”, “instruments” or “tools” of medical research. German public discourse shares these metaphors but seems to be characterised specifically by prominent discussions about es cells’ “totipotency”, or on “scientists playing God” and “interference in Mother nature’s design”. In conclusion, we shall discuss how the different metaphor preferences may account for contrasts in British and German public attitudes and legislature regarding esc research.
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