Thursday, March 28, 2019

Why is hype bad?

There is no doubt that the level of hype in science is increasing. You see it in grant applications, university press releases, introductions and conclusion in papers (especially in luxury journals), talks, ... Hype is also a broader problem in society, including in the business world and politics.

Why is hype bad for science?
Some will say something like, ``I agree that it is not good, but we have to do it to survive. Anyway, we all know what is really true and so it does not matter..."

However, I think there are many problems, particularly for the long term flourishing of science.

Waste of time
Figuring out that a ``hyped'' result or research field is actually just hype can take significant time. This is particularly true if one actually tries to reproduce a result and discover all the problems.

Mis-allocation of resources
Researchers, students, and funding agencies flock to hyped fields. However, it can take quite a while and a lot of money for the community to come to the consensus that things are not going to live up to the hype. This is compounded by the fact that people whose careers are enhanced by a hyped result or field are not going to back down too easily and are going to want to keep things going, at least until the next big thing comes along.

Obscuring or hiding problems that need to be solved to make real progress
Making real and significant progress in science is very hard. Every technique has its limitations. Every result involves some uncertainty. Turning science in the lab into a commercially viable technology may arguably be even harder. The obstacles are many. The best way to progress in science and technology is to clearly and honestly state the problems and challenges. This is one of my many concerns about functional electronic materials.

Intellectual integrity
Science is all about intellectual integrity. Losing our credibility with broader society won't be good for science or for society, particularly when it comes to developing well-informed public policy.

8 comments:

  1. http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2019/03/merchants-of-hype.html

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    1. Thanks for pointing that out. It is excellent.

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  2. You should ask the promoters of graphene.

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  3. I agree with the core of your ideas, however you appear to equate a paper on a hype subject to a paper containing errors in your first bullet. I would suggest that that is not necessarily the case.

    Often, a hyped subject results in introductions and discussion/conclusions to be overstated, while quite often the main results (i.e. the science) are fair.

    Are there more problems in hyped areas? Sure. A push for speed often creates sloppiness. That is why it is best to focus simply on the results presented rather than the hyped intro and conclusions, and draw ones own conclusions based on the data.

    This is not to take away from the core of your post, but is a side note to it.

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    1. Dear pcs,
      As usual you have made a helpful comment. I agree I should have been more precise.
      Hyped results need not be scientifically invalid. They can just be not that important.
      Unfortunately, one still has to spend time reading the paper in detail to figure out that this is not a big breakthrough.
      cheers
      Ross

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  4. In the first post reference "backreaction" blog post there is a reference cited "Studies in Higher Education, Volume 42, 2017 - Issue 12 written by J Chubb and R Watermeyer with reference to UK and Australia. This paper is available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03075079.2016.1144182 . Both J Chubb and R Watermeyer are from Brtish universities. The whole paper makes interesting reading.

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  5. Hype by a baby luxury journal.
    "Arrow of time and its reversal on the IBM quantum computer.
    Write up of the hype below.
    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613123/no-ibm-didnt-just-reverse-time-with-a-quantum-computer/

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    1. Good example; main results seem valid, implications are hyped.

      I also would not call SciRep a baby luxury journal; it is the opposite of a luxury journal...

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