Reading Popular Science: Metaphors and Determinism

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Using literary critical tools, this paper will examine the role played by metaphor in contemporary popular science writing. Following Richard Whitley's assertion that popular science writing's "expository practices are not epistemologically neutral" I will argue that, given its central pedagogical role in popular science writing, an analysis of the use of metaphor is critical to our understanding of popular scientific discourse. Specifically, I will perform textual analysis of popular science writing to show that systems of metaphor (such as those of language, computer programming, cartography, exploration) are used by popular science writers to support a particular argument or agenda. In this paper, the agenda examined will be attitudes towards, and representations of, determinism. Texts will be drawn from popular science writing on genetics and the new physics (i.e. quantum mechanics and relativity).

Keywords: Popular Science, Metaphor, Genetics, Quantum Mechanics, Special and General Relativity
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Price of Metaphor is Eternal Vigilance, The

Dr Bradon Smith

PhD candidate, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge
Cambridge, UK

Bradon Smith is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, from which he also received his BA and MPhil. His doctoral research focuses on the role and effect of literary techniques in contemporary popular science writing and the parallel impact of scientific metaphor and representations of science in contemporary fiction. He also has research interests in the aesthetics and rhetoric of climate change, on which he co-convenes a regular interdisciplinary seminar.

Ref: H08P0489