Epigenetic metaphors: an interdisciplinary translation of encoding and decoding

New Genetics and Society 38 (3):264-288 (2019)
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Abstract

Looking at the new and often disputed science of epigenetics, we examined the challenges faced by scientists when they communicate scientific research to the public. We focused on the use of metaphors to illustrate notions of epigenetics and genetics. We studied the “encoding” by epigeneticists and “decoding” in focus groups with diverse backgrounds. We observed considerable overlap in the dominant metaphors favored by both researchers and the lay public. However, the groups differed markedly in their interpretations of which metaphors aided understanding or not. We conclude by discussing the role of metaphors and their interpretations in the context of a shift from pre-deterministic genomic metaphors to more active, dynamic and nuanced epigenetic metaphors. These reflections on the choice of metaphors and differences in encoding/decoding are important for science communication and scientific boundary-maintenance.

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