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How accurate are scientific metaphors?

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 21 January 2014

Gravity is like a bowling ball sitting on a bed sheet; the atom is like a mini solar system, genes are selfish and the forces of evolution are blind...

We're familiar with the metaphors from school, from books and various science docs on the telly. But how accurate are these metaphors and could we find better ones?

Michael Rosen talks to science explainers across the country to find out how you get across ideas in science that are only properly expressed in highly technical language or in maths. Are they necessarily vague, even misleading, or are some just perfect for the concept they express.

Michael looks at the evolution of scientific metaphors in history and celebrates some of the great science explainers of the past. But he also asks whether some metaphors are not only inaccurate but dangerous as they lead to misunderstandings in the public conversation about science and scientific ideas.

  • Programme Contributors

    Professor Simon Schaffer- Department of History and Philosophy of Science at University of Cambridge 

    Professor Andrea Sella-Department of Chemistry, University College London

    Professor Marcus Du Sautoy-OBE Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford

    Dr Carolin Crawford-Professor of Astronomy, Gresham College, London



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