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The Politics and Ethics of Metaphorical Framing in Genetic and Genomic Research

For more than half a century advances in genetics and genomics have been covered by the media in terms of sensational breakthroughs in the progress of a science whose aim is often said to be to reveal the secrets of the book of life and to provide a key to curing several common diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. This rhetoric of genetics as a series of breakthroughs and promises culminated in June 2000 in the public announcement that the sequencing and mapping of the human genome was nearing completion. Similar claims accompanied news about advances in therapeutic cloning made in South Korea from 2004 onwards. However, in January 2006 the breakthroughs that had seemingly been achieved were finally revealed as false. Newspapers talked instead about setbacks and reversals. This paper will explore the politics and ethics of metaphorical framing by studying the success and failure, the use and abuse and the hype and hope generated by metaphors, such as the genome is the book of life on the one hand and science is a race (to achieve breakthroughs) on the other. It will discuss the political and ethical implications of such metaphors by focusing on two case studies: the announcement of the decipherment of the human genome on the one hand and the discreditation of scientific achievements made in therapeutic cloning on the other.