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Epigenetic metaphors: an interdisciplinary translation of encoding and decoding

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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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Keywords: epigenetics; gene–environment interaction; media; metaphors

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel 2: UMR 7216 Epigenetics and Cell Fate, CNRS/Université Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France

Publication date: July 3, 2019

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