Images of the Genome: From Public Debates to Biology, and Back, and Forth

  • Cor van der Weele


Public debates on genomics are still troubled by unclear images about the relationship between nature and nurture. The biological concept of norm of reaction can potentially play an important clarifying role here, but so far it has been a technical concept that is mainly used within biology. This essay starts from the assumption that metaphors play a large role in the understanding of scientific concepts. Since biology is not only a source of technical concepts, but also a rich source of images, the question arises which images it provides in association with reaction norms. For a long time the concept of reaction norms did not match dominant metaphors of DNA, but the metaphors are changing: a thorough innovation of images about DNA and the genome is currently going on.

The second part of the paper starts from the question of how we may expect metaphors to influence public debates. Recent findings suggest that we should critically assess common assumptions about the interpretation of genetic metaphors. Interpretation is not univocal but appears to depend on the context. Building on this, I suggest some further thoughts. First, in public contexts, the urgency of ethical questions requires innovative imagery about the genome. Second, because of the active cognitive and heuristic use of metaphors in scientific contexts, there is reason to look at biology as an especially productive source of such innovative imagery.


Green Fluorescent Protein Phenotypic Plasticity Public Debate Reaction Norm Scientific Context 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cor van der Weele
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Applied PhilosophyWageningen UniversityWageningen

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