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Hyped Science: Researchers Are Hurting Their Own Cause

Once upon a time, scientists assumed that a record of solid accomplishment was sufficient to maintain research support. They were not really interested in public visibility; on the contrary, they feared it would encourage outsiders to interfere in the research process. Even when research had obvious applications, scientists in most fields were careful to direct their initial findings toward their professional colleagues. Once supported by peer review, they then would go public through the pre

Dorothy Nelkin

Once upon a time, scientists assumed that a record of solid accomplishment was sufficient to maintain research support. They were not really interested in public visibility; on the contrary, they feared it would encourage outsiders to interfere in the research process. Even when research had obvious applications, scientists in most fields were careful to direct their initial findings toward their professional colleagues. Once supported by peer review, they then would go public through the press. Major journals, such as Science and the New England Journal of Medicine have reinforced these norms by refusing to publish papers if their authors first report the findings to the media.

Things have changed. No better example exists than the recent claim by University of Utah scientists that they had triggered hydrogen fusion in a simple electrolytic cell, obtaining a substantial amount of energy. For decades, scientists have tried to achieve controlled hydrogen fusion. The...

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