Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication – INTRODUCTION (DRAFT)

Author’s note: This post is a rough draft of an introduction to an article that I am publicly writing on this blog. The first ten posts on this blog are a series of ~15-minute daily writing exercises I conducted, and posted immediately after, in order to develop better writing habits. Mostly, the previous ten posts collect my thoughts in the moment as I overcome some of my writing myths and hurdles. This current post is the product of five days (Mon-Fri) writing, whose activity I reported on daily at twitter. I left the draft untouched over the weekend. The following Monday morning, I re-read the post quickly, allowing for minor tweaks, and then posted it. I hope to continue writing one section of this paper per week until I have a full first draft, at which point I will submit it to a journal peer-review. From then, I will conduct my revisions privately.

Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication (DRAFT)


Practitioners from information-centric fields make regular use of metaphors in professional literature and everyday usuage. Many of these are based in land-use or a general understanding of the natural sciences, and sometimes (but not always) relate to a larger information ecology or information ecosystem metaphorical concept. For instance, data, which may be stored in the cloud, is also often referred to as the new oil. On campuses, faculty may feel siloed from colleagues who study in different fields. Researchers may be eager to publish quickly to stake their claim to a finding. The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) is a protocol developed for harvesting metadata descriptions of records in archives, just as crawlers do on the web. In libraries, weeding refers to the deaccession of particular items. And so on.


The prevalence of these types of metaphors may be explained by the fact of our inextricable link to the environment. Society was made possible through revolutions in agriculture and so it follows that much of our early language would be focused on cooperation to harvest the land. And because farming remained a key activity for the majority of the population in western Global North cultures up until relatively recently, it is understandable that land-use language would persist in our language.


Discourse in fields like scholarly communication are no exception. Terms and concepts like the commons and enclosure trace to the British Agricultural Revolution. Bibliodiversity (“the need for a variety of publications to be available to readers within a given environment”) is based on biodiversity, a term with roots in the Green Revolution. Today, because the production of food and knowledge are both subject to similar market forces, they both end up sharing some vocabulary (such as supply chains, vertical integration, and oligopoly), making the two domains ripe for parallel thinking.


What I recommend in this paper is that we begin to take inventory of our land-based metaphors in scholarly communications. Then, through deliberate inspection of our metaphorical concepts, we may test whether the presumptions that each entails matches our values, and are not leading us to draw false, spurious, or foregone conclusions. In recognizing the utility and effect of metaphors, we should seek to replace old ones when they cease to bear wise fruit. This objective requires some method to go about making inventory and inspection of our land-use metaphors.


The next sections of this paper will establish the approach and method to be used in this paper. To do so, we will first look at one conceptual metaphor discussed on social media to establish some baseline principles on what makes a metaphor suitable and appropriate. This will be followed by a casual discussion of insights from the fields of philosophy and linguistics.  I say “casual” since we will not attempt to match the rigour of either domain, and only scratch the surface on work by George Lakoff & Mark Johnson and Daniel Dennett.


In this way, we follow the lead of scientist and writer Evelyn Fox Keller (2015) who noted the significance of philosophy of thought, but whose career-long interests encompassed the “far more mundane question of how the particular metaphors scientists invoke shape our scientific view of the world,” how “our scientific picture of the world [is] shaped by our choices of metaphor” and to “what other discoveries might different choices have led us.”


Keller, E. F. (2015). Cognitive functions of metaphor in the natural sciences. Philosophical Inquiries3(1), 113–132.

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Read & Let Read

An ongoing collection of links to discussion of this collection development strategy.

May 13, 2021 – LPC Fellows Forum 2021 at the Library Publishing Forum. (begins at 12:10)

Aug. 6, 2021 – 023 – Read and Let Read, Library Punk Podcast.

Nov. 5, 2021 – Read & Let Read: An Alternative to the Transformative Agreement, Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, Vol. 9, Iss. 1.

Apr. 26, 2022 – Guest Post: Open Access and the Direction Moving Forward, The Scholarly Kitchen.

Nov. 1, 2022 – considering options for equitable access, Keynote Presentation for NERL Annual Meeting, The Charleston Conference.

Dec. 8, 2022 – Adding equity to transformative agreements and journal subscriptions –The Read & Let Read model, London School of Economics Impact Blog.

Jan. 5, 2023 – If not a transformative agreement, then what? Nine questions and answers about an alternative, College & Research Libraries News.

Jan. 17, 2023 – Go for Double: on the “Read & Let Read” Model, Commonplace Podcast.

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The Pitch: Hire Research Data Management Librarians ASAP

If you have any budgetary power at your university, you need to contact whoever is in charge of overseeing the compliance of federally-funded research. If you are that person in the office of sponsored programs, you need to contact your libraries to identify who is involved in research data management (RDM). And finally, if you are a head librarian who supervises anyone involved in RDM, ask them to write up a full memo detailing the staffing and support necessary to run a full shop and not be shy about it. University leadership, offices of sponsored programs, and libraries need to hire research data management librarians and specialists, and soon. Move a mountain and make it happen. 

By order of the recent White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo, by the end of 2025, faculty conducting federally-funded research will need to deposit their underlying research data, immediately and without embargo. Even the data that doesn’t lead to publication. While data deposit was part of the previous OSTP guidance from 2013, it only applied to federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures. The more recent 2022 Nelson Memo extends to all agencies, agencies who are now working with “OSTP to update their public access and data sharing plans by mid-2023.” 

It’s unclear how intensely federal agencies have scrutinized their researcher’s compliance with regard to data deposit since 2013, but given that the 2022 Memo mentions the word data 50 times compared to the 31 mentions in 2013, there seems to be a renewed emphasis on its importance.


As late as 2020, journal editors have observed that authors are not able to produce raw data when requested. A 2022 study investigating the follow through on Data Availability Statements found that only 6.8% of authors actually provided data upon request. It seems as though the days of publishing the paper and kicking the data deposit down the road are gone. If your data availability statement is upon reasonable request, any editor worth their salt will see your funder info and ask you to revise that to include the link to the deposited data.

In a recent column, Dr. Nelson and two other members of the WHOSTP continued to emphasize the importance of data availability. They also spoke to the safety concerns that data sharing poses, noting that “[s]upporting public access also means working to prevent the misuse of research and data by actors that seek to do harm … [p]rivacy and security must be protected, even as federally funded research becomes more open.” If potentially a majority of researchers aren’t familiar with the steps to deposit their research data, what chance is there that a majority of them understand the FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship or the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance? The point, here, is that: without appropriate metadata, data-sharing mandates are pointless.

Even if federally-funded researchers are aware of which repositories have met the “Desirable Characteristics of Data Repositories for Federally Funded Data,” will they have the ability or time to figure out how to deposit the data themselves? Maybe that sounds a bit silly, but the NIH’s public access policy has developed an entire “Method B” procedure that includes a list of journals and publishers that will arrange to deposit an author’s accepted manuscript into PubMed (the NIH’s own repository) for a fee.


This where your soon-to-be beefed up teams of research data management librarians and specialists come in. Depositing a paper in a repository is not even that hard. Preparing research data for deposit? That takes a lot of labor and expertise. The labor-intensive aspect of bringing data up to FAIR standards is “something many researchers described as a serious barrier to participating in formal data sharing.” As for expertise, research data librarians and other information specialists (of which I am neither) already have accrued and organized around in one form or another

The federal government is ready to help chip in for whatever seems the best option they have before them. They cannot choose your university’s research data management team unless it exists. Once it does, research grants will support the necessary personnel and infrastructure that you have begun to put in place. (Be bold, by the way. Scared money doesn’t entice federal funding.) You can rely on this income stream because it is federal research funding, and if that were to dry up, your larger existential threats will diminish concerns about this outing to nil. 

Expect to have some up front costs, but remember: that’s what making an investment in your own institution feels like. If it’s not your institution who hosts this service, it will be a third party vendor who will have a fiduciary responsibility to their investors, not to your budget. Besides, you are going to charge a fee for these services. As a starting point, for every data set arising from federal funding that your institution processes, charge a fee of $2,000. Maybe more for larger datasets. This $2,000 amount is slightly less than 0.4% of $504,805, which is what the average NIH research award between 2011 and 2021 has been.


What’s my stake in this? I have no expertise in data nor aspirations toward gaining it. My normal area of concern is equitable and open access publishing and the infrastructure. Much of the ground has been ceded to the big commercial publishers whose business models are founded on making the reading and authoring of scholarly texts an exclusive activity. 

But research data and its management is a new front for this fight, given the refreshed emphasis both from the grassroots library and open science communities as well as national funder mandates, including the most recent memo from the U.S. As I’ve written before, “over-reliant outsourcing to the big commercial vendors is always a mistake.” 

University leadership does what it can to retain public funding. Those of us not in that position should advocate to ensure that the funding we do receive stays within the institution where it can continue to support the broader public mission.


As a roadmap, start with a few fee-based research projects. This will give your institution’s RDM team time to work out its workflow. It may become clear that further support is necessary; do it. Have your sponsored programs coordinator be very clear in their conversations with federal agencies that this is in the works, to expect this as an option. 

By mid-2025, you will have a year or two of experience under your belt, assuming you begin this process next year in 2023. The federal agencies your institution most often works with will also have a year or two of experience working with your team. Hopefully the experience will have been good on both sides, and those federal agencies can recommend your service, and services similar, and can include your established services into their future compliance plans.

After 2025, become more ambitious in your aims. Apply for a five-year grant for the team itself. Offer services outside of your institution for a fee. Get a feel for the market. Build it up as large as you can sustain. These will be coming from institutions likely smaller than yours because otherwise they would have built teams of their own. After your five-year grant runs out, apply for another.


You will know this experiment has succeeded when commenters (like me) begin to note that the practice of big institutions leeching federal funds from smaller institutions is extractive. It will be extractive. But the extraction could have been much worse, if you had left it to the billion-dollar commercial publishing industry. Defend yourself by pointing to the social infrastructure you helped grow for data specialists at smaller institutions to ramp up similar services more efficiently. Established teams (like yours) will be there to provide training. This will happen because it will have been librarians you hired to populate the core services. And service to the profession is simply what we librarians tend to do. And do well.

The author would like to acknowledge and thank Teresa Schultz, Scholarly Communications & Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Nevada, Reno, for feedback and input. All errors and omissions should be attributed to the author solely.

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Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication – METHOD / APPROACH, PT. 3 (DRAFT)

Author’s note: This post is the third part of a rough draft of an methods/approach section to an article that I am publicly writing on this blog. I’ve previously written and posted an Introduction section. As you may see in the author’s notes to the previous two parts of this section, I had a system in mind on how I would write this, but it became clear in the third week that that system isn’t… going to work. I don’t know, man, I’m just trying to get some stuff down on paper here.


Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication (DRAFT)

METHOD / APPROACH, PT. 3  (PT. 1 here; PT. 2 here)

In conclusion of this section, I will summarize the major points discussed, distilling them into a guide for our method / approach.

The three most basic mechanics we will employ are

  • identification of a metaphor (or conceptual metaphor) in circulation;
  • case-making for its suitability; or
  • case-making for its replacement;

along with a fourth mechanic, which is

  • identification of potential metaphors for tangential areas.

Metaphors are figures of speech that allow us to refer to one thing in terms of another, and a conceptual metaphor is something that allows us to think about one conceptual domain in terms of another. A conceptual metaphor may gain circulation if it is catchy, vivid, or if the underlying mapping is clear or enticing. The wide circulation of a metaphor does not necessarily signal that the metaphor is actually sound. Further, even if a good number of metaphorical mappings are present, there may be other factors that make them unfit for beneficial use.

Deep consideration of a metaphor can solidify the case for a particular metaphor, present a case against one, and help uncover alternatives and related metaphors. To unpack a conceptual metaphor is to uncover the persuasive little story it may be conjuring in our thinking. Dennett coined the term intuition pumps to describe fable-like objects which raise an issue effectively, but does not settle it. As Hofstadter advised, we should consider the intuition pump to be a tool with many knobs we should turn in order to see if they still raise the same intuitions.

The particular ‘knobs’ we will repeatedly attempt to identify (if not all the way turn) are three we take from Lakoff and Johnson (1980). Lakoff and Johnson argued that conceptual metaphors structure thinking, and in doing so, they:

  • highlight some aspects;
  • hide others; and can lead to
  • self-fulfilling prophecies which act as a guide for future actions.

In the next sections, before diving into land-use metaphors that are particular to scholarly communication, we will observe how the approach / methods described here have been enacted onto land-use metaphors in librarianship (weeding), and more broadly in the information fields (information ecology / ecosystem).

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Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication – METHOD / APPROACH, PT. 2 (DRAFT)

Author’s note: This post is the second half of a rough draft of an methods/approach section to an article that I am publicly writing on this blog. I’ve previously written and posted an Introduction section. The first ten posts on this blog are a series of ~15-minute daily writing exercises I conducted, and posted immediately after, in order to develop better writing habits. Mostly, the previous ten posts collect my thoughts in the moment as I overcome some of my writing myths and hurdles. This current post is the product of five days (Mon-Fri) writing, whose activity I reported on daily at twitter. I leave these drafts untouched over the weekend. The following Monday morning, I re-read the post quickly, allowing for minor tweaks, and then post them. I hope to continue writing one section of this paper per week until I have a full first draft, at which point I will submit it to a journal peer-review. From then, I will conduct my revisions privately.

Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication (DRAFT)

METHOD / APPROACH, PT. 2  (PT. 1 here)

Plainly-speaking, metaphors are figures of speech that allow us to refer to one thing in terms of another. A conceptual metaphor differs slightly; there, we think about one conceptual domain in terms of another. In their influential book Metaphors We Live By (1980), linguists Lakoff and Johnson set out what it means for a concept to be metaphorical and how conceptual metaphors structure our perceptions of everyday activities. This structuring can have at least three particular effects which we will explore in our paper: highlighting, hiding, and self-fulfilling prophecies. Recognizing these effects, we can choose to flag language that is reflective of an underlying conceptual metaphor, draw the metaphor out, and treat it like a tool. A tool to better think about the discourse in which the flagged language appears. One particular thinking tool we will model after is what philosopher Daniel Dennett coined as intuition pumps

But to begin, we turn to Lakoff and Johnson (1980) who illustrate how a conceptual metaphor can be reflected in our everyday language. The conceptual metaphor they use as their example is argument is war. (In this case, it appears that Lakoff and Johnson mean debate in particular, and not just any old argument.)


Your claims are indefensible.

He attacked every weak point in my argument.

His criticisms were right on target

I demolished his argument.

I’ve never won an argument with him. 

You disagree? Okay, shoot!

If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.

He shot down all of my arguments. (ch.1)

The above examples show how we often talk about argument in terms of war. For Lakoff and Johnson, we “don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war,” we structure our thinking about argument as we do wars. Therefore, we think in terms of winning or losing an argument, just as with wars. While thinking in terms of this particular conceptual domain is not a bad strategy if your ultimate goal is to win, this comes at the cost of pre-determining or limiting one’s own thinking, in this case, about the purpose of argument.

It may be useful to step back and consider what one hopes to achieve from an argument or debate. Do we hope for the best ideas to emerge (even when it might be considered a loss or compromise for our position), or simply just that we win? If we imagine a culture that viewed argument as dance, rather than war, their goal may be “to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way” (ch.3), rather than simply trying to win. In our culture, as Lakoff and Johnson put it, being “in the midst of a heated argument” may place us in a mindset where “we are intent on attacking our opponent’s position and defending our own.” In doing so, we may overlook the more “cooperative” aspects of argument, which might be more visible if ours were a culture that viewed argument as dance.

This is the nature of metaphorical concepts: they allow us to “focus on one aspect of a concept” and overlook “other aspects of the concept that are inconsistent with the metaphor” (ch.3). The conceptual metaphor argument is war highlights the aspects of arguments which refer to winning or losing, and hides other cooperative aspects. The argument is dance metaphor may highlight and hide in just the opposite manner. To recall Lakens’ tweet, the underlying beef he had with the fishing expedition metaphor was that it served to highlight undue aspects in its target (exploratory analysis), while hiding aspects more in step with his opinion, which he found the shotgun approach metaphor (highlighting traits like haphazard and indiscriminate) to be more coherent with.

Highlighting and hiding are two ways that Lakoff and Johnson show metaphors structure our thinking about everyday activities. Building on these two, we turn to a third that we will refer to as self-fulfilling prophecy. Lakoff and Johnson reason that metaphors not only “create realities for us, especially social realities,” but that they act as a “guide for future actions,” actions that must be coherent with the metaphor, which in turn will reinforce the “power of the metaphor” (ch.23).

The example that Lakoff and Johnson use is President Carter’s declaration that the energy crisis was the “moral equivalent of war,” making the conceptual metaphor: energy crisis is war. Language reflective of this metaphor (“we must marshal forces to tackle the energy crisis) invites the listener to draw warlike inferences, and eventually come to accept that the issue is to be engaged in terms of war. To view an issue through the lens of war is to accept that an issue is a thing which may be either won or lost, as opposed to some other set of options. And in a literal war, a nation must win or risk its existential livelihood, so the listener begins to intuit that the war must be won. Thus, we should be wary that a metaphor we have internalized may be acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The term ‘open access’ can have several different meanings, and so different naming devices have emerged to define these (green, gold, bronze, platinum, etc.). In an essay on Diamond Open Access (the publishing arrangement where articles are made open access, without cost to the reader or author), Martin Paul Eve (2021) demonstrates how the very use of the word connotes rarity, scarcity, and refinement. Eve notes that “in some cases, diamond is a more apt metaphor than we might like,” considering how real-world diamond mining “is full of ethical pitfalls,” such as extensive environmental damage and exploitation of workers “in the service of global profit.” By naming this flavor of open access as diamond, we may ask if we are not setting our expectations in such a manner that these outcomes seem natural, even if that was not the intended plan.

We may also understand how self-fulfilling prophecy embedded into language can affect outcomes by considering how it works in reverse. Messaging intended to promote or persuade an audience about the virtues of open access can be self-sabotaged if the language constitutes a “patchy endorsement.” As Collister & Cantrell (2021) write, a patchy endorsement (based on a definition by Levy, 2015) is one that reasserts the status quo (in this case, being subscription publishing), or introduces “concepts that may exacerbate complexity and confusion,” and thus activates the status quo bias. Collister & Cantrell give an example of an open access advocate comparing “open access journals” with “traditional journals” which serves, unintentionally, of creating a “binary between open access and traditional,” with traditional, in this case, centering subscription fees. This is likely not what the advocate had planned, but this can be the effect.

To make a plan is to tell a story about how the future might unfold under certain conditions of our choosing. If our sense of reality is perceived through conceptual metaphors, which have the potential to lead us in a particular direction, then when our plans contain a conceptual metaphor, it may be that our plans are acting as an intuition pump. Intuition pumps are “little stories designed to provoke a heartfelt, table-thumping intuition […] about whatever thesis is being defended”(Dennett, 2014), according to philosopher Daniel Dennett, who dubbed the term in his 1991 book, Consciousness Explained. Intuition pumps are thinking tools, like fables (e.g. Aesop’s fables or Plato’s cave), that Dennett says may “raise an issue vividly,” but do not settle a matter.

We understand from Lakoff and Johnson that metaphors are able to highlight some aspects, hide others, and potentially drive us to self-fulfilling prophecies based on our primed intuitions. For the method / approach to this paper, I suggest that we flag metaphorical language in our field, and identify the underlying conceptual metaphors. By identifying that we are approaching objects and activities through a conceptual metaphor, we can begin to recognize our individual and collective storytelling toward that object or activity. These stories, we can treat like intuition pumps.

Dennett gives advice on how to approach an intuition pump:

“We need to become practiced in the art of treating such tools warily, watching where we step, and checking for pitfalls. If we think of an intuition pump as a carefully designed persuasion tool, we can see that it might repay us to reverse engineer the tool checking out all the moving parts to see what they are doing. When Doug Hofstadter and I composed The Mind’s I back in 1982, he came up with just the right advice on this score: consider the intuition pump to be a tool with many settings, and ‘turn all the knobs’ to see if the same intuitions still get pumped when you consider variations” (ch.1, Introduction: What is an intuition pump?). 

Based on advice from Dennett and Hofstadter about intuition pumps, we can think of highlighting, hiding, and self-fulfilling prophecies as the knobs we should be turning. If our community has accepted a conceptual metaphor, then we should be asking what entailments we commonly attribute to the source object or action. When primed by these concepts, what aspects are being either overrepresented and overlooked? What conclusions might that language be automatically driving us toward?

Next, we will summarize the main points from this section in order to develop a consistent plan of assessing land-use metaphors in scholarly communication.



Collister, L.B. and Cantrell, M.H., 2021. From “Patchy Endorsements” to Intentional Advocacy: Deconstructing Bias in the Language of Open Access. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 9(1), p.eP2395. DOI:

Dennett, D. C. (2013). Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking. WW Norton & Company.

Eve, M. (2021, March). Diamond mining | plan s. SOApbox.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2008). Metaphors we live by. University of Chicago press.

Levy, N. (2015). Neither fish nor fowl: Implicit attitudes as patchy endorsements. Noûs, 49(4), 800–823.

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Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication – METHOD / APPROACH, PT. 1(DRAFT)

Author’s note: This post is a rough draft of an methods/approach section to an article that I am publicly writing on this blog. I’ve previously written and posted an Introduction section. The first ten posts on this blog are a series of ~15-minute daily writing exercises I conducted, and posted immediately after, in order to develop better writing habits. Mostly, the previous ten posts collect my thoughts in the moment as I overcome some of my writing myths and hurdles. This current post is the product of five days (Mon-Fri) writing, whose activity I reported on daily at twitter. I left the draft untouched over the weekend. The following Monday morning, I re-read the post quickly, allowing for minor tweaks, and then posted it. I hope to continue writing one section of this paper per week until I have a full first draft, at which point I will submit it to a journal peer-review. From then, I will conduct my revisions privately.

Land-use Metaphor in Scholarly Communication (DRAFT)


Why do we use ‘fishing expedition’ for exploratory analyses? A fishing expedition requires a huge amount of preparation and planning, and it has a clear goal. A ‘shotgun approach’ seems a much better metaphor.” -Daniël Lakens, tweet, Jan. 19, 2021.

A tweet from psychologist Daniël Lakens helps demonstrate, in brief, the mechanics of our approach in this paper. Lakens identifies that “fishing expedition” is a metaphor which is commonly used to describe exploratory analysis. He questions why this is the case and suggests an alternative. Whereas a (literal) fishing expedition requires a “huge amount of preparation and planning” and has “a clear goal,” Lakens implies these are not characteristics of an exploratory analysis. Therefore, the comparison between the two is unsuitable. To Lakens, a “shotgun approach” is a better match to characterize exploratory analysis. A shotgun approach, as Wiktionary defines it, is an approach “in which the subject is indiscriminate and haphazard, using breadth, spread, or quantity in lieu of accuracy, planning, etc.” 


To recap, this tweet exhibits three basic mechanics to be used in this paper: 

  • identification of a metaphor in circulation; 
  • case-making for why that metaphor is or is not suitable, and
  • case-making for a replacement, if the prior metaphors are not suitable.


Replies to Lakens’ tweet exhibited occurrences to be expected when working with metaphors. Commenters offered humorous alternatives, such as the “dynamite fishing approach,” while others suggested alternatives, like trawl fishing, which appeared to contain sturdy mapping between the two concepts. Lakens agreed that trawling worked as a metaphor because, in both concepts, “you filter out everything that fits […] but also a lot of things you didn’t want.” And putting a finer point on it: “you have a net that will make sure you catch every small fish (every p < 0.05), even if they are worthless and you should have let them go.”


We can surmise from this that:

  • a catchy metaphor may invite exploration on the extent of mapping between the two concept. 


One reply noted that the fishing expeditions metaphor actually comes from the legal domain. Per Wikipedia, a fishing expedition is an “informal, pejorative term for a non-specific search for information, especially incriminating information… most frequently organized by policing authorities.” Catchy metaphors can become commonplace to the point that they transcend their original context. However, catchiness does not fulfill what makes a metaphor a sound metaphor. If we consider Lakens’ original criticism to be valid–that fishing expeditions require much planning and have a specific target, and are thus a poor fit for exploratory analysis–then we can see that the fishing expedition is a wrong fit for pre-trial procedures as well.


This demonstrates that:

  • vividness or catchiness can propel metaphors to wide-usage beyond their original context, but
  • popular-usage of a metaphor does not necessarily signal the presence of a sound metaphor. 

[Sidebar: Covering similar territory, Jim Lumsden published a post on April Fool’s Day in 2019 for Prolific blog, in which he wrote a spoof product press release for something called the Prolific Fishing Tool. In it, Lumsden parodically wrote that the “new P-Fishing tool guarantees you a statistically significant result, whatever hypothesis you choose,” by selecting a study URL and choosing an effect size, after which the tool would launch “20 parallel studies, “recalculate your output variables after every submission,” and “hit the breaks” as soon as one study “crosses that famous 0.05 threshold.” If the P-Fishing tool failed to “result in the Nature paper you’ve always wanted,” then you could “supercharge your science with the AI-powered P-Trawlerfishing tool.”]

Finally, we can look at responses to Lakens’ assertion that a shotgun approach would make for a better metaphor. One user wrote that people “shooting with a shotgun still point it in the general direction of the target. It’s just more forgiving to inaccuracy.” It is slightly unclear if this point is being made in favor of the shotgun approach metaphor or not, but it did demonstrate how the shotgun approach metaphor would operate differently than the fishing expedition metaphor. 


Another reply said that the commenter was trying to “remove all gun-related metaphors from [their] vocabulary.” This commenter seemed to be expressing an intent to remove  casual normalization of unnecessary firearm language from conversations, which are a highly-pervasive feature in the English language. Whether the two concepts–exploratory analysis and shotgun approach–mapped well together was besides the point of this reply. Since this particular tweet-reply gained no engagement, we may look at another of Lakens’ tweets, which did receive much feedback, to demonstrate a final point about making useful metaphors. 

The arc of the scientific universe is long, but it bends toward transparency.” -Daniël Lakens, tweet, Feb, 27 2021.

In this tweet, Lakens attempts to express a feeling that progress in open science (transparency) is slow but steady. He does so by interpolating a famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 speech delivered on steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, in which the Civil Rights Leader said “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Superficially, the open science movement (target) is the Civil Rights movement (source) is a logical conceptual metaphor, from the standpoint that both movements seek to improve society, and both push against the status quo to do so, which causes progress to be slow.  From a values-based standpoint, it is considered by some (myself included) to be too crass to draw these types of comparisons, because of its potential to lessen the weight of the source domain; in this case, the Civil Rights movement. Many commenters noted the inappropriateness of this analogy, while others defended it.

As a reductio ad absurdum, we could follow this further to say that because scholars labor without pay for organizations who profit from their work, that scholars are slaves. While there is a certain logic at play here, to actually make that comparison in a world where actual slavery still occurs and the effects of abolished slavery can still be felt, would do a special kind of disservice to slaves and slave-descendents. It diminishes and dismisses trauma, or at least can give that distinct impression. This is not to say that we should overlook how knowledge workers are routinely taken advantage of. Far from it. Instead, we could seek out better, more appropriate metaphors through which to express that idea. Or if we genuinely fear sacrificing intellectual insight from drawing such a comparison, we would do well to note that while X and Y may share space on a spectrum, that they are on far ends of it.

While some might find it unnecessary to allow a critical or moral analysis to stand in the way of otherwise logically-sound metaphors, it is intellectually dishonest to ignore the ways in which our words affect the world around us. When we find ourselves dismissing earnest, poorly-received reactions by a substantial portion of our audience, then we may question whether we are poorly communicating or not. And to think intelligently about the metaphors we use in our fields is to care about communicating well.


Perhaps the least controversial way to phrase the point here is to say that: 

  • a metaphor is not useful if it evokes other thoughts to the point of distraction.


With Lakens’ tweet, we have drawn out several basic mechanics to consider when thinking about metaphors. We now direct our attention to slightly more sophisticated mechanics in this paper’s purview: highlighting, hiding, and self-fulfilling prophecies. 


[To be continued in a Part 2 of this section.]

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