Work in the field of cognitive linguistics (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; 1999) and embodied cognition (Clark, 2011; Shapiro, 2011) demonstrate that most of our understanding–and therefore, our communication–is metaphorical, with its basis in concrete sensory information. Importantly, metaphors are effective because they highlight certain aspects of the target concept. However, they also hide aspects, as well. Novice learners, who think differently about scientific concepts than experts (Clement, 2008) are less likely to discriminate between what is highlighted and hidden–what they should pay attention to and what they should not–and therefore can develop understandings about the target concept that do not match intended meaning. For instance, Dolphin and Benoit (2016) found that the tectonic plate metaphor was inhibiting students’ understanding of earthquake occurrence because their experience with plates was not as large portions of the earth’s lithosphere, but as ceramic dinner plates, which they considered as separate and brittle. This caused them to think that earthquakes happened when tectonic plates were pushed together and collided. Understanding how concrete experiences influence how we think of abstract concepts through the use of metaphor can then help us direct thoughts of learners better (Amin, 2015; Beger and Smith, 2020). For instance, in the example just given, Dolphin and Benoit (2016) generated a new metaphor, the lithosphere is the skin of the earth. In this case, the skin is the source for the metaphor projected onto the target, lithosphere. This metaphor highlights the wholeness of the lithosphere of the earth and its elastic properties. Importantly, everyone has had many concrete experiences with their skin. They can also use shearing, compressional, and to some extent tensional forces to produce analogous deformation on their skin.
We propose to examine various media (to include news and social media) to: 1) determine how the public (learners) understand earthquake magnitude and intensity by identifying the metaphors they use (Steen, 2007; Steen et al., 2010) when discussing these concepts; and 2) identify what metaphors learners are exposed to that could influence how they think about the target concepts (Bock von Wülfingen, 2020; Williams Camus, 2020). A proposed target is to investigate social and news media around any earthquake where a USGS ShakeAlert-powered alert was sent to the public to untangle confusion around real-world occurrences with EEWS that are easily transferable to Canada. Our intended outcome is to create knowledge of how the concepts of earthquake magnitude and intensity are understood by the public and how they are framed by teaching and other media sources, then to use that knowledge to develop the most effective linguistic tools (metaphors) for facilitating the public’s reliable understandings around these concepts. EEWS public education and communication campaigns can use this information to better craft alerting and post-alert messaging.