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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Professor Brigitte Nerlich (University of Nottingham) in dialogue with Professor Andreas Musolff (MLAC): Metaphors as models of mediation between science and the public: newspaper reporting of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak

11th February 2008, 17:15 to 19:15, Institute of Advanced Study, Cosin's Hall, Durham University

This is part of the Metaphors as Models Interdisciplinary Dialogues series.

The relation between theoretical models and metaphors has been studied since at least the 1950s. The relation between metaphors and mathematical modelling is less well researched. This article takes the media coverage of the foot and mouth modelling exercise in 2001 as an occasion to examine the metaphors of mathematical modelling that were proposed by the UK press during that time to make sense of this new scientific policy tool. One can detect a gradual change in metaphor use by the newspapers from conceptualising modellers as detectives and models as mapping tools to modellers as soldiers and heroes to modellers as liars and models as tools to distort the truth. This seems to indicate a shift in reporting from seeing models as a legitimate and ‘objective’ basis used by decision makers to pursue science-based policies towards seeing models as tools used to legitimise increasingly difficult political decisions.

Keywords: metaphor, media, models, foot-and-mouth disease, policy, public understanding of science