I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the “replication crisis” in experimental social psychology. One complaint that a psychologist made about her field really struck me, but not for the intended reason:
Findings in papers are often hyped in a way that is more appropriate in a press release than in a scientific paper.
Of course, her complaint is that authors are overselling the findings in their papers. The “crisis” in psychology is that parts of the discipline are replete with practices that are wonderful for generating a published literature full of interesting findings but willfully weak in terms its filtration of the interesting-and-true from the would-be-interesting-except-it’s-wrong.
But you can turn the sentence on its head. How should we think about the idea that it’s more acceptable to hype findings in a press release than when communicating with other experts?
Presumably, given the same overhyped description of a study and its findings, the experts are the ones would better able to recognize the overhype for what it is, and to put it in a context that would lead them to draw a more accurate assessment. We’d expect laypeople to be less able to recognize what’s hype and what not. So the scientifically-interested citizen either ends up being overly credulous toward everything they read–and harboring a bunch of misunderstandings that way–or, if their bullcrap detectors go off often enough, maybe some people form a generalized distrust of science.
Either way, if we prefer a world in which the things people believe are true, the epistemic harm of hype is greater when perpetrated upon the public than upon peers. And yet the thinking is the opposite: that we owe our colleagues cautions and qualifications, and just owe the public a good story.