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Science

Hype In Science Papers On the Rise (nature.com) 84

schwit1 writes: In the past forty years the use of descriptive words by scientists to positively hype their results in papers has increased steadily. "Researchers at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands say that the frequency of positive-sounding words such as 'novel', 'amazing', 'innovative' and 'unprecedented' has increased almost nine-fold in the titles and abstracts of papers published between 1974 and 2014. There has also been a smaller — yet still statistically significant — rise in the frequency of negative words, such as 'disappointing' and 'pessimistic'.

The most obvious interpretation of the results is that they reflect an increase in hype and exaggeration, rather than a real improvement in the incidence or quality of discoveries, says Vinkers. The findings "fit our own observations that in order to get published, you need to emphasize what is special and unique about your study," he says. Researchers may be tempted to make their findings stand out from thousands of others — a tendency that might also explain the more modest rise in usage of negative words.

The word 'novel' now appears in more than 7% of PubMed paper titles and abstracts, and the researchers jokingly extrapolate that, on the basis of its past rise, it is set to appear in every paper by the year 2123." This study was focused on the medical field, so it is unclear if its results could be extrapolated to other science fields.

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Hype In Science Papers On the Rise

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  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2015 @11:01AM (#51129421) Journal

    The expansion of clickbait headlines into everything makes me weep for humanity.

  • No kidding. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2015 @11:07AM (#51129453) Journal

    People demand value for money from government funding. Can't give funding to slacker scientists who slack in their ivory tower all day wearing tweed and drinking sherry and whatnot or whatever it is that academics do.

    So, it's demanded that scientists perform. Which means do important stuff. And lots of it. Publish or perish! MOAR PAPERS! But are they good? That's measured by how important all other scientists think their work is. Which is measured by citations. And to get citations, you need to get people interested enough to read your paper, which now has to stand out in the massive flood of papers which is occuring because people need to be seen to be churning out work.

    And that means up-selling the papers, which means hype.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      But are they good? That's measured by how important all other scientists think their work is. Which is measured by citations. And to get citations, you need to get people interested enough to read your paper, which now has to stand out in the massive flood of papers which is occuring because people need to be seen to be churning out work.

      And that means up-selling the papers, which means hype.

      Pretty soon you'll have paper abstracts like "You won't believe what these scientists discovered when they put this stuff they found in the back of the lab breakroom fridge under a microscope!"

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      So you're saying papers are becoming more like SEO, then?

      • So you're saying papers are becoming more like SEO, then?

        No, not precisely.

        It's a problem that when the editors, reviwers and then later fellow scientists see your paper first time, the first thought is "I have a million papers to review/read, why the fuck should I care about this one". Note that "uninteresting" is a perfectly valid reason to reject a paper from most journals.

        Even if it gets in, when people come to read it, you have to catch their attention fast. No one has enough time to read every paper p

    • And that means up-selling the papers, which means hype.

      Indeed. The list of positive words tracked in TFA is:

      amazing, assuring, astonishing, bright, creative, encouraging, enormous, excellent, favourable, groundbreaking, hopeful, innovative, inspiring, inventive, novel, phenomenal, prominent, promising, reassuring, remarkable, robust, spectacular, supportive, unique, unprecedented

      A lot of these are clearly "hype" words (amazing, spectacular, etc.), but I'm a little less sure of others. Some clearly could be used to mean specific things regarding the experiments, the data, or descriptions of components (bright, enormous, unique), some have technical meanings that are important (phenomenal, robust), and others just don't seem really "positive" like the others in implying "hype" (assuring, reassuring, supportive -- is this judging

      • I used to put the word thrice in every scientific paper I wrote. I thought it was a pity that it's not used anymore.

        I wonder what that would get if they searched for outliers in general?
    • Re:No kidding. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2015 @01:10PM (#51130609)

      I've tried to read a lot of papers in my field, which is Mixed Signal ASIC design, and mostly they are awful. The reasons break down as follows.

      1) Corporate papers are enough to advertise what they did, but leave out most of the important details if you are trying to follow in their foot steps. Understandable, but counter to the whole point of the paper and conference circuit.

      2) Academic papers are awash in the need for every PhD candidate, and most Master's candidates to get published. The conference committees are from this arena and are overly sympathetic. So you get a ton of student papers that are badly written and mostly redundant. Until we ease off "novelty" and invention as a criteria in engineering, which is mostly turning existing cranks and only occasionally novel, the few good papers will be lost in a see of bad student papers.

      3) Every paper must use a jargon Thesaurus to replace all normal english words with the most obscure ivory tower versions. It makes papers impenetrable even when you find one that is on-point otherwise. I've run across a couple 1st drafts on author websites that ended up being twice as informative as the as-published version for this reason. I believe the editors (a bunch of self aggrandizing academics) actively reject readable papers.

  • by tkrotchko ( 124118 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2015 @11:08AM (#51129465) Homepage

    "The word 'novel' now appears in more than 7% of PubMed paper titles"

    Isn't this simply a reflection of how long the papers are?

    • by GroeFaZ ( 850443 )
      Scientific language has its own vacoabulary, and in an ideal world, words like the ones the study investigates should never show up, no matter how long the text is. As a scientist, you should leave it to your peers to decide what is novel, amazing, etc., but apparently, pure content is no longer sufficient to get published.
      • I disagree. As a reader I find "novel" helpful so that I know if the approach has been tried before. If I knew all that the authors know it would be unnecessary, but so would the paper then too. Communication is about moving ideas from one head to another. the word novel tells me a lot.

      • Scientific language has its own vacoabulary...

        Like vacoabulary, I assume?

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      "Novel" is not a novel word. I'd like to see more farfegnugen results.

    • "The word 'novel' now appears in more than 7% of PubMed paper titles"

      Isn't this simply a reflection of how long the papers are?

      Papers are shorter now than they were. I remember reading all these mid-20th century classics that were 50 or more pages long. Now you never find anything that long because the funding cycle is about 5 years and they expect you to produce multiple high impact papers. So people push things out as fast as possible and break it down as much as possible.

      • Hence the idea of the LPU (Least Publishable Unit) so that you include as little science as you can in each paper while still getting published, and reveal more in your next paper, and so on. I remember being amazed by a paper I read in a vision class: an unexpected result in a paper that basically just reported the result and stopped, with a hint from the authors that there would be more papers published. I had never seen the LPU theory applied more elegantly.

  • I hate the use of 'novel' and 'efficient' in scientific titles. I will be the judge of that, thank you very much.

    See the link in my sig for proof.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      In CS papers "efficient" means polynomial (theoretical paper) or something like O(n) or O(log n) depending on problem. It does not mean "fast". Similar for space-efficiency.

    • I hate the use of 'novel' and 'efficient' in scientific titles. I will be the judge of that, thank you very much.

      "Efficiency" is a perfectly cromulent scientific concept that can be measured objectively.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    the amount of actual new or interesting science. We're definitely on the far end of the logistic curve with regards to how much stuff we can find out.

    What can compare to the periodic table of elements, radioactivity, the neutron, the size of the universe, computers, transistors?

    "A revolutionary approach to getting 0.01% more out of a half century old process", by 12 cheating Chinese students?

    As opposed to

    https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/techreports/UCAM-CL-TR-574.pdf

    One guy inventing not one, but a bunch of new ide

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      the amount of actual new or interesting science. We're definitely on the far end of the logistic curve with regards to how much stuff we can find out.

      That's what they said in the 1800s about physics : they said it was a solved problem, with only two small details to settle : aether and blackbody radiation. These "small details" ended up completely changing our understanding of the universe, leading respectively to general relativity and quantum mechanics.

  • by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) <hackertourist.xmsnet@nl> on Wednesday December 16, 2015 @11:15AM (#51129545)

    They're trying to increase their Bullshit Bingo scores...

  • Modifying a quote from Jon Stewart:

    "Saying you're [innovative] is like saying you have a big ****. If you have to say it, it probably isn't true"
  • Weird that the summary doesn't include a link to the BMJ study itself [bmj.com], titled "Use of positive and negative words in scientific PubMed abstracts between 1974 and 2014: retrospective analysis". Whatever you might think of their findings, at least you can't fault the authors for hyping their study. Hype, I suspect, is a symptom of the data epidemic of our times. Readers, or what's left of them, need to know fast if something's worth reading. The more "tweetable" the title, the more eyeballs a study gets, neve
  • If someone who had just read Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions came up to you and started talking about it, what would you say to deflate his or her excitement, as a crabby older person? I was thinking, that dominating grant funding games play some role deepening the science but also gumming up the revolutions? Especially in anything related to medicine, which also gets the whammy of body neuroses and extreme profit taking. I guess the critique is that Kuhn sees science too hermetically? How

  • Heh, I've used all of those except 'amazing' in almost every paper I've written (and the few times I missed an opportunity, someone else suggested I add them in). It really is important to note that your stuff is super-mega-new (novel/innovative/unprecedented/modern/current/concomitant to something else that is new) and that it does something radical.

    Some even show this 'radical'ness by using completely irrelevant measurements for their comparisons with established mainstream algorithms/procedures. It's pre

    • It's been a common observation in programming that programmers do things in the way they are rewarded the most. It isn't surprising to see similar behavior in scientists.

  • "The word 'novel' now appears in more than 7% of PubMed paper titles and abstracts, and the researchers jokingly extrapolate that, on the basis of its past rise, it is set to appear in every paper by the year 2123."

    It strikes me that in the next few years at least, this is only going to accelerate. My (UK) university's internal review procedures require you to "emphasize the novelty." The abstracts of almost all of the papers in journals I actually read (respect?) contain some description of the novelty, re

  • Always has been my favorite networking company. Solid and incredibly reliable products.

  • To get a patent, your invention must be novel. Journals also ask for novel results in their instructions to authors. Not suprising then that authors include it in their titles and abstacts.
  • It's a nine-TIMES increase. An X-fold increase is a power of 2. Since the claimed increase is from 2% to 17½%, usage occurs nearly nine times as often, or a bit over a four-fold increase. A nine-fold increase (2^9 = 512×) would require hype to exist in every single one of the more than five times as many papers as are actually published, and then in some more.
    • The paper and TFA are correct. X-fold or fold change is the ratio of the after measurement to the before measurement, in this case 17.5/2 = ~9 fold increase.

    • 17.5 is 15.5 more than 2.
      15.5 is 7.75 times 2.
      17.5 is 8.75 times 2.
      17.5 is 7.75 times more than 2.
      .

  • My advisor had a good way of keeping his student's writing modest and in check. First, words like the ones these researchers looked for just we're allowed. But, to really drive the point home, he'd replace every instance of "very" with "damn". It was damn interesting to read your manuscript in that context.

    We need more advisors like him.

    -Chris

  • Like, totally amazing!
    Mathematic!

  • ...You won't Believe What Happens Next!

We cannot command nature except by obeying her. -- Sir Francis Bacon

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