Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lack of self-awareness, thy name is John Horgan.

I see that Scientific American is reorganizing its blogging efforts.  I hope it works out well for them.  Call me if you want someone to blog about condensed matter and nanoscale science.  I'd really enjoy talking to a wider audience and would, of course, tailor my style accordingly.

When looking at their site, though, I came upon this piece by John Horgan, about whom I have written previously.  This latest essay is meant to be advice for young science writers.  Because he is a smart person with great experience in science journalism, his basic advice does have some kernels of merit (be skeptical of claims of scientists; pay attention to who is talking about science and their possible agendas).  His other points strike me as odd or beside the point to varying degrees.  (e.g., scientists are people and therefore have a human context to their work, but claiming that the majority of US science is shaped by capitalism and militarism is just nutty; inequality, our screwed up healthcare system, and militarism are all distressing, but what does that have to do with talking about a large part of science?)

The very first point that Horgan makes got my attention, though, and nearly broke my irony-meter.  He writes (his emphasis): "Most scientific claims are bogus. Researchers competing for grants, fame, glory and tenure often—indeed usually–make exaggerated or false claims, which scientific journals and other media vying for readers eagerly disseminate."  While I recognize that there have been claims to this effect in recent years, I think it is pretty hilarious that Horgan can warn about this with a straight face.  This is the guy who vaulted onto the larger, international stage by writing a book called The End of Science back in 1996.  Yeah, that wasn't at all an exaggerated or false claim made with the intent of capturing as much media attention as possible.  Nope.


Anonymous said...

Seems that Horgan’s statement isn’t precise enough. It should read: "Most hyped scientific claims are bogus.”

Anonymous said...

I ask you, who would know better than a past practitioner?


Alex Warn said...

Researchers competing for grants, fame, New Trends glory and tenure often—indeed usually–make exaggerated or false claims