Tag Archives: Hype

Science and Hype

In the last few years, the media have picked up on a few physics stories that were later shown to be incorrect. Prominently, in the last couple years, stories of superluminal neutrinos and evidence for cosmic inflation at BICEP2 flooded the internet. Premature media coverage of high-temperature superconductivity in H_2S and the Higgs boson also occurred, but these findings stood up to the peer review process. Most recently, a rumor was started about the detection of gravitational waves at LIGO. There is an interesting take on these events, focusing on the already-infamous LIGO tweet, in a Physics Today piece by Stephen Corneliussen. I recommend reading it.

It is my personal opinion that the aforementioned scientific discoveries should not have been reported to the media until they stood up to the peer review process. This point of view is not meant to blame the media; we physicists are in fact more responsible for alerting the media than they are for reporting the findings. (Do you really expect a reporter not to report a story? They are just doing their job after all!) Of course, the peer review process is itself far from perfect (just think of the absurd case of Schon for instance) but at least it provides an extra layer of assurance concerning new results.

This is not a cut-and-dry issue, and I wholly acknowledge this, but I do think that we can do better than the current state of affairs.