NCEAS Project 7901

Ecological metaphors: Their cultural resonance and what we can do about it

  • Brendon Larson

ActivityDatesFurther Information
Working Group16th—19th April 2004Participant List  

Ecologists commonly use metaphors to develop their ideas and to communicate them to the public. Unfortunately, by their very nature metaphors may be interpreted in different ways by different constituencies, and this may lead to misunderstanding of ecological concepts. For example, a recent paper in Science (Chew and Laubichler 2003, Science 301: 52-53) reported on the prevalent use of the term �natural enemies� in recent scientific literature. �Natural enemies� and related terms such as exotic and invasive resonate with foreign policy, so it is perhaps unsurprising that some individuals claim that invasive species policy is xenophobic. As another example, consider the challenges that have arisen with the attempt to convince people that �disturbance� is an important and beneficial ecological process. Our NCEAS working group, consisting of ecologists, metaphor researchers, philosophers and science communication scholars, will assess whether there is anything we can do to ameliorate the misinterpretation and misapplication of ecological metaphors. Can we better control which metaphors are used? Is there any way to reduce misinterpretation of established metaphors? Practically, we will develop suggestions for wise metaphor use among ecologists.

TypeProduct of NCEAS Research
Book Larson, Brendon. 2011. Metaphors for environmental sustainability: Redefining our relationship with nature. Yale University Press. New Haven, CT.