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This is also the way in which the Eastern mystics see the material world. They all emphasize that the universe has to be grasped dynamically, as it moves, vibrates and dances; that nature is not in a static, but a dynamic equilibrium. Life is process. Machine metaphors make sense in a society attached to devices. We want to upgrade our brains like computers, hack our lives like programs, map everything from the genome to the cosmos, then fix or manipulate bad bits.

Still, as Nesse warns, metaphors are limited. We cling to the mechanical view for fear that acknowledging mystery plunges us back in the dark days of the soul, he posits. Rather, it allows for deeper scientific exploration and a wider search for the relationships among the parts and the new realities created by their interactions, rather than assuming people work like a series of simple levers and pulleys connected with replaceable nuts and bolts.

Meanwhile, clinging to the machine metaphor risks human health and billions of dollars in misguided research, plus centuries of needless debate. The physician writes:.


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Economic literature: papers , articles , software , chapters , books. A long tradition of thought in Western political philosophy compares the body of man to the political body. Synthetic biology SB is one of the most frequently and controversially debated biotechnologies, receiving a great deal of attention from scientists, policy makers, civil society organissations as well as in media coverage.

Metaphors and figures of speech are important parts of the public discourse in general, and the media discourse on science and technology in particular. As such, they perform functions of explaining and persuading, often being used to describe general trends, but also for giving reasons for adopted positions or assumed courses of action regarding several scientific developments. By providing alleged justifications for subjective perceptions, metaphors may serve as markers of consensus or controversy between social actors with regard to the handling of developments within the field of SB [ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ].

This raises questions about which metaphors occur in media discourse to promote particular viewpoints as well as about the manner and contexts of their usage. Synthetic biology is widely understood as an umbrella term covering a diverse field of scientific practices with different agendas and approaches.

Varied disciplines are combined within its framework, such as physical, chemical and computer sciences, engineering and biology. The general objective is either to construct and design new biological parts, devices and systems the bottom-up approach , or to modulate and modify existing natural components by implementing, for example, synthetic genes or proteins the top-down approach [ 5 ].

The underlying conceptual approach of SB is to gain a more in-depth and accurate understanding of biological systems. Therefore, SB addresses a well-defined understanding of the organisational principles of biological organisms. By using a methodological framework of prediction, analysis, modulation, as well as by building new biological components SB tries to conceptualise and finally create new modularised biological systems.

Thus, SB is perhaps more precisely understood if it is seen as a platform of different interacting bio-technological tools and newly modularised and constructed reagents. In the long term, the different approaches of SB aim to develop novel and wide-ranging applications within a variety of societal fields, offering new applications in health care, agriculture, food production, and environmental protection [ 6 , 7 ].

Synthetic biology, metaphors and responsibility

Beyond the first achievements within a synthetic version of the antimalarial compound artemisinin there are several projects within SB, which sustainably aim at contributing to the fight against different communicable diseases such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or to enhance the Hepatitis C Virus vaccine development. Beside the envisioned benefits of SB, its emerging advances are supposed to evoke new challenges for science and society. In the current public discussion, a special focus is put on the visions and postulated products of SB, emphasising the objective of generating new forms of life.

Such possible developments challenge societal norms and values and may have substantial implications for shared ways of life.

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Against this background, an important task is to examine the prevalence, manner of use, and function of images of synthetic in public discourse in order to attain a better understanding of modes of societal perception of emerging biotechnologies. While a large number of studies have explored public views on different biotechnologies, those that focus on SB are still few in number.

The research conducted on this subject consists primarily of surveys, focus group and interview studies with selected or representatively polled populations of different countries from the EU [ 10 — 12 ] or the US [ 13 — 16 ]. In spite of the widespread recognition that the societal assessment of emerging biotechnologies is heavily shaped by media coverage and its transported images [ 2 , 4 , 17 , 18 ], there is a lack of empirical research examining the reporting on SB as well as the use and function of metaphors within media articles.

On a general level, studies of metaphors in public discourse on biotechnologies reveal two key aspects: On the one hand, the findings indicate that forms of metaphorical speech have been frequently used in international media coverage and have therefore shaped media representations of these scientific fields [ 1 , 2 , 14 , 19 ]. On the other hand, the results of studies on the media coverage of biotechnology in different countries show that the use of metaphors likely varies from one language to the next.

A media content analysis on the use of metaphor in Danish media coverage of biotechnology from to points out that such expressions are grounded in basic schematic images and fulfil important tasks for rendering a common level of comprehension. At the same time, they are highly influenced by notions of risk and anxiety. According to this analysis, emotionally charged metaphors, referring to religious semantics and especially to Frankenstein scenarios, figure quite often in the examined Danish media reports [ 1 ].

Hence, these findings indicate that, in media discourse in Denmark, emerging biotechnologies are represented in an over-simplified and sceptical manner. This is consistent with the quite frequently occurring general presumption of rather reductionist and emotionally appealing reporting on science and technology [ 2 , 14 ]. By contrast, a content analysis of German-language media articles with a focus on SB, published between and , indicates that this research field was broadly represented with regard to its envisioned benefits, and thus, in a simplifying but rather affirmative manner [ 19 ].

Science and Metaphors

However, phrases with mechanical and industrial references are most prevalent in public discourse on SB in the observed period [ 19 , 20 ]. The empirically observed high usage of metaphorical expressions correspond to the ongoing broad theoretical discussion on metaphors in the field of SB [ 8 , 9 , 21 — 23 ], which focuses on the occurrence of religiously charged and emotionally appealing expressions, and aims at analysing and assessing SB and its notions of life from a philosophical, ethical or theological perspective.

Nevertheless, although the use of metaphors in public discourse on SB can be considered a widely debated issue on a theoretical level, the frequency of their occurrence, as well as the manner in which they are used and their function in media coverage, is currently insufficiently explored, especially with regard to international media reporting on SB.

Therefore, filling in this gap is one of the urgent desiderata for gaining an enhanced understanding of public views and evaluations of this highly debated and controversial field of research. Against this background, the present study explores the societal awareness of SB by systematically analysing and interpreting the usage and function of metaphors that are prevalent in German- as well as English-language media coverage on SB.

Thus, the main questions to be addressed by this article are the following: 1 which metaphors are prevalent in the media discourse on SB and what meaning do they have? The underlying assumption of our investigation is that leading metaphors in media reporting contribute to shaping public perceptions and assessments of emerging biotechnologies by framing and structuring related discourses and creating powerful images of actors and possible products within these fields [ 2 , 17 , 24 ].

Although it is important to note that public views cannot be predicted based on media content analysis alone, the analysis of metaphors in public discourse is an appropriate approach for scrutinising public communication patterns as well as societal modes of perception of emerging biotechnologies. Furthermore, by scrutinizing the use of metaphors and speech forms it is possible to gain a better understanding of the implicitly underlying cultural perceptions which are addressed and perhaps be challenged by a new technology such as SB.

With this in mind, we conducted a media content analysis [ 27 ] that explores the use and function of imaginations and metaphors in the discourse on SB. The analysis included national German-language as well as international English-language media articles dealing with SB, covering the period from January to December This sample period was fixed at the first international conference on SB, which took place in , and ends up with the current development of SB as a more or less established field of research.

The overall sample included articles published in many different countries worldwide as well as different print and online media genres e. It consisted of a varied and comprehensive set of press material with regard to expected target groups, patterns of interpretation or argumentation and transported values, thus providing a basis for a generalizable analysis of metaphor use in public discourse. We decide to use a combination of quantitative [ 28 , 29 ] and qualitative [ 30 , 31 ] content analysis to get a large-scaled and in-depth view of how the field of SB was covered by the media.

All media articles were analysed first by each investigator and in a second step within the research team in order to reach a broad intercoder consensus. The aim of the quantitative content analysis was to examine which metaphors and framings—as a hint to the implicit used and referred to comprehensive cultural perceptions—are prevalent in the public discourse and guide perceptions and evaluations of SB. In this context, the temporal frequency distribution rate of increase respectively decrease was also investigated. Within the scope of the prior quantitative content analysis of German-language media coverage, the most-used metaphors were inductively extracted based on specific findings from the articles to ensure representing a large spectrum of metaphors dealt with in media coverage.

The thereby operationalized list of metaphors which were generally used in the media discourse on SB was then used as a basis both for the inquiry into the international media coverage and the qualitative analysis of metaphorical language. A particular focus was put on the use and function of religio-culturally charged metaphors towards the societal perceptions of SB, expecting a quite frequent use of them.

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A general distinction was thereby drawn between references to religious semantics and more descriptive images. With regard to the comparison of the frequencies of used metaphors in German- and English-language media coverage, our quantitative analysis has some limitations: First, as we did no quantitative significance test of the metaphor use, our findings provide just initial indications of differences between national and international media reporting on SB.

Thus, no conclusions can be reached about the significance of the differences in the frequency distribution. Second, there is a large difference in size between the two examined datasets and the English-language corpus can be considered as more disparate than the German one in terms of type of publication, and geographical origin. Hence, we were well aware that the comparability between both datasets is limited. In order to specify the way forms of metaphorical speech were used, and to identify their respective contexts of meaning, a qualitative content analysis complemented the investigation of media representations of SB.

In particular, the analysis focused on implicit qualities, such as emotional language, optimistic or pessimistic connotations, as well as on contextual factors such as scientific events mentioned in the articles. Thus, we examined for example, whether the metaphors were used in an emotional charged or in a distancing, rational-pragmatic manner in terms of the evaluation of envisioned scientific developments, which implies a rather sceptical or a rather affirmative assessment of these progresses.

The following sections provide an overview of the most relevant findings regarding the analyses of the use of metaphor in national and international public discourse.

Evolutionary metaphors in explantions of American industrial competition - LSE Research Online

Thus, the media analysis included a total number of publications dealing with SB, covering the period between and The content of the articles ranged from SB as the main topic to articles where SB was mentioned only peripherally. During the research period, the number of national and especially of international articles within this subject area increased substantially, from 5 respectively 33 articles published in to 74 respectively articles published in As shown in the following section, such pioneering research results, and the related postulations of a generation of new forms of life [ 33 ], also increased the use of metaphors in media coverage on SB, which particularly applied to the use of religio-culturally charged expressions.

In particular, this applied to German-language media coverage, using the phrase in about 14 percent of the examined articles, while the expression appeared in only about 3 percent of the relevant English-language publications see Table 1. Overall, the quantitative findings mainly show three aspects: The first important result is that the total frequency of religio-cultural metaphors used in public discourse on SB was lower than expected on the basis of other empirical findings [ 1 , 19 ], and the ongoing broad ethical discussion of religiously charged expressions in the field of SB [ 8 , 9 , 21 , 22 ].