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Thematic series - Synthetic biology: How the use of metaphors impacts on science, policy and responsible research

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Edited by
Carmen McLeod, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, UK
Brigitte Nerlich, Emeritus Professor of Science, Language and Society, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham, UK

Metaphors are not just decorative rhetorical devices that make speech pretty. They are fundamental linguistic and cognitive tools for thinking about the world and acting on the world. Researchers interested in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) are interested in creating a world in which research and innovation happen responsibly, taking the needs of people from all walks of life into account. The language we use to make a better world matters; words matter; metaphors matter. Words have consequences, even ethical, social and legal, as well as political and economic consequences. They need to be used with care and be studied with care. They need to be used ‘responsibly’ (Nerlich & McLeod 2016).

In the context of synthetic biology, natural and social scientists have become increasingly interested in metaphors, a wave of interest that we want to exploit and amplify in this collection. Articles and books on synthetic biology, metaphors of life and the ethical and moral implications of such metaphors is an emerging topic of international interest. Specific metaphors, from books and editing to programming and machines, have been discussed in other posts. And there are many more out there.

This special issue presents interdisciplinary and international discussion of the impact that metaphors can have on science, policy and publics in the context of synthetic biology. This will include background on the current RRI agenda and consideration of the increasing pressure on scientists to demonstrate ‘responsibility’ (Nerlich & McLeod 2016).

The collection will introduce questions that are important in this context, such as: Can we distinguish between metaphors that are used unconsciously or lazily and metaphors which are chosen consciously to stimulate hopes, fears, financial investment or emotional reactions; metaphors that inspire, challenge traditional thinking or entrench established prejudices; metaphors that are good for something or some people but detrimental to others; and finally, are there metaphors that travel between groups and connect people and metaphors that create barriers and divide people? What are the implications of these and other metaphors for RRI?

Deadline for submissions: 28th February, 2018

Submission Instructions

Before submitting your manuscript, please ensure you have carefully read the submission guidelines for Life Sciences, Society and Policy (LSSP) The complete manuscript should be submitted through the LSSP submission system. To ensure that you submit to the correct thematic series please select the appropriate thematic series in the drop-down menu upon submission. In addition, indicate within your cover letter that you wish your manuscript to be considered as part of the thematic series on contract cheating. All submissions will undergo rigorous peer review and accepted articles will be published within the journal as a collection.

Submissions will also benefit from the usual advantages of open access publication:

Rapid publication: Online submission, electronic peer review and production make the process of publishing your article simple and efficient

High visibility and international readership in your field: Open access publication ensures high visibility and maximum exposure for your work - anyone with online access can read your article

No space constraints: Publishing online means unlimited space for figures, extensive data and video footage

Authors retain copyright, licensing the article under a Creative Commons license: articles can be freely redistributed and reused as long as the article is correctly attributed.

For editorial enquiries please contact


McLeod C, Nerlich B, Mohr A (forthcoming) Working with bacteria and making bacteria work: The biopolitics of synthetic biology for energy. Energy Research and Social Science. For publication in July 2017 volume 

McLeod C, Hartley S (forthcoming) Responsibility and Laboratory Animal Research Governance. Special Issue: ‘Science, Culture and Care in Animal Laboratory Research.’ Science Technology and Human Values 

Nerlich B, McLeod C (2016) The dilemma of raising awareness ‘responsibly’. EMBO reports: Science and Society. Vol. 17(4):481-485. DOI: 10.15252/embr.201541853

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