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Beyond Military Metaphors in Medicine and HIV Cure Research

Jing-Bao Nie,
Adam Gilbertson,
Malcolm de Roubaix,
Ciara Staunton,
Anton van Niekerk,
Joseph D. Tucker,
Stuart Rennie

Published 2016 October 17 in The American Journal of Bioethics

Military metaphors are pervasive in biomedicine, including HIV research. Rooted in the mind set that regards pathogens as enemies to be defeated, terms such as “shock and kill” have become widely accepted idioms within HIV cure research. Such language and symbolism must be critically examined as they may be especially problematic when used to express scientific ideas within emerging health-related fields. In this article, philosophical analysis and an interdisciplinary literature review utilizing key texts from sociology, anthropology, history, and Chinese and African studies were conducted to investigate the current proliferation of military metaphors. We found the use of these metaphors to be ironic, unfortunate, and unnecessary. To overcome military metaphors we propose to (1) give them less aggressive meanings, and/or (2) replace them with more peaceful metaphors. Building on previous authors’ work, we argue for the increased use of “journey” (and related) metaphors as meaningful, cross-culturally appropriate alternatives to military metaphors.