- If the BICEP2 collaboration had only posted their paper on the arxiv and said that the validity of their interpretation depended on further checks of the background by, e.g., the PLANCK collaboration, no one would have batted an eye. They could have said that they were excited but cautious, and that, too, would have been fine.
- Where they (in my view) crossed the line is when they orchestrated a major media extravaganza around their results, including showing up at Andre Linde's house and filming his reaction on being told about the data. Sure, they were excited, but it seems pretty clear that they went well beyond the norm in terms of trying to whip up attention and recognition.
- While not catastrophic for science or anything hyperbolic like that by itself, this is just another of the death-by-1000-cuts events that erodes public confidence in science. "Why believe what scientists say? They drum up attention all the time, and then turn out to be wrong! That's why low fat diets were good for me before they were bad for me!"
- Bottom line: If you are thinking of staging a press conference and a big announcement before your paper has even been sent out to referees, please do us all a favor and think again.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Hype, BICEP2, and all that.
It's been a few years since I've written a post slamming some piece of hype about nanoscience. In part, I decided that all this-is-hype posts start to sound the same and therefore weren't worth making unless the situation was truly egregious or somehow otherwise special. In part, I also felt like I was preaching to the choir, so to speak. That being said, I think the recent dustup over the BICEP2 experiment is worth mentioning, as an object lesson.
Posted by Douglas Natelson at 5:14 PM