Study: hyperbole is increasing in science

From the “everything is robust” department.

We’ve long noted at WUWT that the word “robust” has seen a significant rise in usage in climate science papers, becoming a favorite word to use when statistical Spackle has been applied to climate data. Now there’s evidence from a new study suggesting that observation is spot-on.

From Nature:

‘Novel, amazing, innovative’: positive words on the rise in science papers

Analysis suggests an increasing tendency to exaggerate and polarize results.

Philip Ball

Scientists have become more upbeat in describing their research, an analysis of papers in the PubMed database suggests.

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’.

Source: Ref. 1

Psychiatrist Christiaan Vinkers and his colleagues searched papers on PubMed for 25 ‘positive’ words and 25 ‘negative’ words (which the authors selected by manually analysing papers and consulting thesaurus listings). The number of papers containing any of the positive words in their title or abstract rose from an average of 2% in 1974–80 to 17.5% in 2014. Use of the 25 negative words rose from 1.3% to 2.4% over the same period, according to the study, published in the British Medical Journal on 14 December1.

Rising hype

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.

But Vinkers and his colleagues think that the trend highlights a problem. “If everything is ‘robust’ and ‘novel’”, says Vinkers, then there is no distinction between the qualities of findings. “In that case, words used to describe scientific results are no longer driven by the content but by marketability.”


A BBC story here says the use of the word “robust” has gone up 15000% They write:

Despite working with facts, figures and empirical evidence, the world of science appears to have a growing addiction to hyperbole. Researchers at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands looked at four decades worth of medical and scientific publications, and found a significant upwards trend of positive words. We’ve all heard of those ”ground-breaking” studies or ”innovative” research projects. Dr Christiaan Vinkers – a psychiatrist at the Rudolf Magnus brain centre – was the main author of another ”very robust” report.

This tool used to analyse words, when selected for academic use, shows that indeed, “robust” is a favorite word of science:

robust-bargraph

Source: http://www.wordandphrase.info/academic/frequencyList.asp

And, this Ngram suggests that at least through 2008, the word “robust” has become vastly more popular in books. It’s almost like a hockey stick of robustness:

robust-ngram

Source: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=robust&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2014&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Crobust%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Brobust%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BRobust%3B%2Cc0

 

 

154 thoughts on “Study: hyperbole is increasing in science

      • We did a study at our university on the percentage of graduates receiving recognitions of cum laude, summa cum laude, etc. and the percentages varied little around a flat line until 1972 when the percentage took off like a hockey stick. Thus began the age of Everyone’s a Winner.

      • As vukcevic pointed out, definitely another hockey stick, but this time “proving” the correlation between the increase in man made atmospheric CO2 and the use of the word “robust”.

  1. We need some robust criticism of the use of “robust” in scientific papers. Just shows you that the quality in general of scientific papers in on a robust downwards slope. In general I view universities as just another form of enterprise using marketing and promotion to further the economic objectives of the enterprise. Success is not measured by quality of research but ability to generate funding by whatever means.

    • When you measure research value in term of notoriety (under fancy names), this is what you get: the Kardashians.

      • “Ooh, I like that. Climate science has become the Kardashian field of scientific study: lacking substance but always in the headlines.”

        BOB! That kind of vulgarity is not welcome here! *grin* Happy New Year Mr. Tisdale :)

  2. Nothing wrong with “robust”. E.g., I cannot seem to find any ROBUST scientific evidence that supports the theory that co2 causes warming.

  3. The first clue that someone is clueless is that they use jargon and hyperbole. That’s where you get Al Gore’s “The Oceans my boil dry by 2200” in contrast to some information that is an accurate portrayal of reality.

  4. Hyperbole should be avoided without exception in technical scientific writing because science is about being preciseness and literal, there is no exception for the language you should use to convey it.

    Scientific research can never be robust, though the researchers themselves can certainly be robust unless they are depressed because few are taking their climastrology serious.

    • RW, hyperbole should be avoided? But the IPCC guidance enshrines it.

      From the IPCC Climate God Bible.

      3) Be aware of a tendency for a group to converge on an expressed view and become overconfident in it. Views and estimates can also become anchored on previous versions or values to a greater extent than is justified.

      4) Be aware that the way in which a statement is framed will have an effect on how it is interpreted (e.g., a 10% chance of dying is interpreted more negatively than a 90% chance of surviving).

      8) Use the following dimensions to evaluate the validity of a finding: the type, amount, quality, and consistency of evidence (summary terms: “limited,” “medium,” or “robust”), and the degree of agreement (summary terms: “low,” “medium,” or “high”). Generally, evidence is most robust when there are multiple, consistent independent lines of high-quality evidence. Provide a traceable account describing your evaluation of evidence and agreement in the text of your chapter.

      9) A level of confidence is expressed using five qualifiers: “very low,” “low,” “medium,” “high,” and “very high.” It synthesizes the author teams’ judgments about the validity of findings as determined through evaluation of evidence and agreement. Figure 1 depicts summary statements for evidence and agreement and their relationship to confidence. There is flexibility in this relationship; for a given evidence and agreement statement, different confidence levels could be assigned, but increasing levels of evidence and degrees of agreement are correlated with increasing confidence. Confidence cannot necessarily be assigned for all combinations of evidence and agreement in Figure 1 (see Paragraph 8). Presentation of findings with “low” and “very low” confidence should be reserved for areas of major concern, and the reasons for their presentation should be carefully explained.

      10) Likelihood, as defined in Table 1, provides calibrated language for describing quantified uncertainty. It can be used to express a probabilistic estimate of the occurrence of a single event or of an outcome (e.g., a climate parameter, observed trend, or projected change lying in a given range). Likelihood may be based on statistical or modeling analyses, elicitation of expert views, or other quantitative analyses. The categories defined in this table can be considered to have “fuzzy” boundaries. A statement that an outcome is “likely” means that the probability of this outcome can range from ≥66% (fuzzy boundaries implied) to 100% probability. This implies that all alternative outcomes are “unlikely” (0-33% probability). When there is sufficient information, it is preferable to specify the full probability distribution or a probability range (e.g., 90- 95%) without using the terms in Table 1.

      Table 1. Likelihood Scale

      Term*———————Likelihood of the Outcome
      Virtually certain—99-100% probability
      Very likely———90-100% probability
      Likely————–66-100% probability
      About as————33 to 66% probability
      likely as not
      Unlikely————0-33% probability
      Very unlikely——-0-10% probability
      Exceptionally unlikely–0-1% probability

      https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/supporting-material/uncertainty-guidance-note.pdf

      • Given the terms of the likelihood definitions and applying them to the 90+ climate models which FAIL to meet current conditions and given that all of them have been overturned by the UN who now says 1.5 global temperature is catastrophic (most of them had models of 3 – 6 degree warming as their premise) can we safely declare that all of them now fit in the 0-33% probability and are therefore unlikely. That being the case shouldn’t the UN and its lackey IPCC create NEW climate models with today as the new start date and with the current conditions as the template for consideration of the future.??

  5. They don’t need to use the word “robust.” All they need to do is say they have a “95% certainty,” as in AR5. It still makes it a crock.

  6. The temperature graph and robust graph are similar. Clearly temperature controls robustness of science.
    /sarc

      • Wait…but it causes POSITIVE, upbeat hyperbole! If we use Cook et al 2013 methodology-we can say that 97% of recently published, peer reviewed papers that express a position on global warming/climate change express a POSITIVE outlook on it!!!!! Perfect!

        (papers that don’t express a positive outlook didn’t really have to because the “consensus” view has always been positive)

  7. ‘“everything is robust” department.’

    Is that next door to the “everyone is special” department?

  8. Interesting how both positive and negative words jumped sharply just after 1974, however the increase in the use of negative words plateaued quickly while the use of positive words kept climbing.

    If I were an editor, the use of “novel” in a paper would trigger an instant doubling of the number of reviewers assigned to that paper. Novel means it hasn’t been done before, which means it needs extra scrutiny.

    • I have a alternate theory:

      Before about 1980 or so, all scientists needed to hand type reports and papers. It’s much slower to add unnecessary adjectives to your paper if you need to use a typewriter. Perhaps the ability to edit in real time along with the ability to distribute unlimited electronic copies via Usenet and, later, gopher allowed scientists the luxury of adding words that were previously too time consuming to type, spell check, and re-type.

      • unknown,
        Interesting.
        Maybe the use of cut-and-paste has helped.
        Certainly if I run a meeting, I write the minutes first; if exceptionally necessary [everyone against me] I will modify the draft (slightly) – ‘some consideration was given . . .’. [Mods – /sarc, quite bit!]

        It looks the same with scientific papers.

        Draft the outcome you want.
        Do the data search [no real observations needed, of course!].
        Mine the nice-ish data.
        Torture the good-ish data.
        And – as the delightful wine-producers would say – Voila, mon ami!

        Auto

  9. Two decades ago, the question was:
    Is global warming alarmism simply false or is it fraudulent?

    Now, after the Mann hockey stick fiasco, “Mike’s Nature trick”, “Hide the Decline”, the fabricated aerosol data used to fudge the warming alarmists’ climate models, the Climategate emails, and the many false “adjustments” of the surface temperature data record, there is no question:
    Global warming alarmism is clearly fraudulent – in financial terms, it is one of the greatest frauds of all time.

    So one concludes that not only are there are too frequent uses in scientific papers of positive words like “robust”, there are too few uses of negative words like “fraudulent”.

  10. The reader is the person who should decide on the adjectives, not the author. The professional audience will decide if the research is in any way novel, not the researcher trying to sell it. The paper should use a minimum of adjectives and adverbs and when used they should be factual objective qualifiers of data and actions e.g. black to describe a colour or larger to differentiate between say 2 objects. The adjectives should not be subjective e.g. the words good and bad should not he used. Maybe science is going the same way as journalism – where the reader is told the author’s interpretation of the facts before he is told the facts.

  11. “Unprecedented” is not upbeat nor positive in climate science unless the scientists are rooting for disaster.

  12. When you have a system that encourage novel results you will get such papers. In the end the system is more geared towards the publishing of outliers.

  13. The word “robust” does not belong in a list that includes “amazing” because it has a specific meaning in statistics. It means that the results are not subject Gaussian or i.i.d. assumptions.

  14. In the presentation to the new Canadian Prime Minister, they used “unequivocal” and “indisputable”.

  15. They should have had ‘worrisome, disconcerting, disturbing’ from the negative data set to the hyperbole data set because they usually use these to tell us how unprecedented their projections are.

  16. I remember about 20 years ago when “robust” became the ubiquitous in-word in manufacturing company jargon, then it faded to normal usage after about 10 years. On the same subject, lately I’ve been wondering how long the faddish use of the noun “couple” used as an adjective withoutthe connecting preposition “of” is going to plague us. If we insist on saying “a couple days” and “a couple storms,” why not say “a pair shoes,” a group women,” “a pile crap,” etc.? Entropy at work.

    • Related to Louis LeBlanc’s note on dropping “of”, have you noted how quickly such changes are adopted by journalists (“the chattering classes” as someone brighter than me once said).
      Ian M

  17. What might be interesting is to generate a “paper” and distribute it to Scientists on journal review lists; paper “A” would be written in a neutral voice, and paper “B” would have frequent positive words inserted and see what the responses to a request for criticism would produce.

    It would be sad if an Author had to write in a grandiose style to get published, but that is my suspicion. People tend to respond most favourably to people who are either like them or like how they strive to be, most of the gate-keepers at the journals strike me as narcissistic and grandiose.

  18. “the world of science appears to have a growing addiction to hyperbole.”

    That’s nothing compared to the world of blogs.

    The problem is that readers “homogenize” superlative adjectives with the result that nothing is superlative.

    If every storm is “extreme”, how shall you describe the worst? Tornadoes have an “F” scale; you don’t need to say “incredible tornado” you say “F5 tornado” and people generally know what you mean. If an F5 tornado is incredible, an F1 is just a twister.

    Count the number of times “extreme”, “robust”, “incredible” and “unprecedented” exist on just one page of ATTP. I barely remember the topic; I became fascinated with all these adjectives. Everything is incredible, even mildness!

    “This Northern Hemisphere winter has also been incredibly mild”

  19. This is a fantastic study with superb results. It would have been splendid if they used a more impressive thesaurus.

  20. ‘Ode to Exaggeration’ a poem by J.M.Whitman

    Hyperbole came to my front door one day,
    And knocked in a robust way.
    I said go away,
    Its scream faded in dismay
    Where it went I cannot say.

    John

  21. I guess this goes along with a decade or two of grade inflation. It only stands to reason that we would have word inflation as well.

    Reminds me of when retailers change the size of something instead of raising the price. Or change “medium” to “large”, etc.

  22. I suspect that the word robust is the forerunner to the use of a shortened version of the word which will describe the AGW theory. If you leave out the first two letters you may see the next trend BUST.

  23. For many years, as soon as I saw ‘robust’ in the article, I knew it was a BS piece. Hyperbole has been a main feature of the AGW agenda for 20 years.

  24. Why am I not surprised? These scientists are from the same age group that produces product advertising with all its honesty and transparency about products.

    How many times have you heard the following:

    INTRODUCING THE ALL-NEW X

    Where X is the name of a car.

    I suspect that if a car model was “all new” (i.e. nothing carried over from the previous model year) the company that made it would have to put a 100 million dollar price tag on it.

  25. Well, in the IPCC assessment case, its wants to accentuate the negative impacts.

    But, I think we should include accentuating the positive impacts as well . . . so we got to . . .

    ‘Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive’ by Johnny Mercer

    You’ve got to accentuate the positive
    Eliminate the negative
    Latch on to the affirmative
    Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

    You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
    Bring gloom down to the minimum
    Have faith or pandemonium
    Liable to walk upon the scene

    John

  26. Back in the ’60’s, Mad Magazine had an issue devoted to the hyperbole used in advertising, and opined that if a company was touting “new, improved Product”, then the old product was the old, unimproved version. Hilarious.

    • Nicholas,

      “Seems to me there are significant similarities between ID and CAGW.”

      I see the exact opposite correlation. In fact, it seems to me that it was the elevation of Evolution to a “scientific fact” without any observable scientific proof, that actually paved the way for the same treatment of the CAGW theory.

      True believers (which included me till just a few years ago) simply do not question Evolution theory. And often treat those who don’t accept it as fact, in exactly the same way as CAGW skeptics are treated by the CAGW faithful, it seems to me.

      • Evolution cannot be a fact. We have not observed it.

        Observation is a hallmark of science.

        Projections about the future can never be “fact.” They cannot be true until the time comes. A forecast, prediction, or projection may be very well done, but it is never fact.

        Likewise, a model of how the species we see have come to be here with us will always require some assumptions, since we cannot simply observe the unobserved past. And, there is no logical way to exclude counter-factuals, as is done when you run an experiment.

        Finally, there are many compelling logical arguments against evolution, as well as for it. To me, the greatest argument against evolution is the incredible reliance upon quite unlikely simultaneity: for almost any kind of animal, and almost any organ or symbiotic relationship you can think of, you have incredible chicken-egg problems.

        It is fine to believe in evolution as a concept to explain where all of the species we see came from; but we should practice skepticism, rather than just accept what our middle-school teachers were guided to tell us to believe in middle school science class.

        In my opinion, it is better to have a middle-school kid question evolution, then maybe progress to puzzling over the issue with a critical mind, than to take the path of ostracizing the kid for not accepting the prevailing dogma.

        Like pondering this puzzle:

        “When the blood–testes barrier is breached, and sperm enters the bloodstream, the immune system mounts an autoimmune response against the sperm.”

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood%E2%80%93testis_barrier

        How did we evolve sperm, essential for the next generation, when sperm is recognized as a foreign body, and is attacked by the body when detected? That is quite a chicken-and-egg problem to account for.

        On the female side: during pregnancy, a woman’s estrogen level triples. This is necessary for the developmental process of fetus and for the breast to move to the milk-producing state temporarily. This estrogen comes from the placenta. The placenta is formed from the fertilized egg, not from the mother. So, in short, a developing baby pumps its mom with the hormones needed to provide the necessary environment for its development. Read that again: in utero, a baby provokes the development of its necessary environment from its mother’s body. A baby cannot develop in utero and then be born without so setting up its womb-environment.

        Logically, this is quite challenging to accept as a product of evolution. Babies evolved to affect their mom’s bodies to allow the babies to be possible?

        You can get yourself out of this with Gradualism, and with Deep Time. This WAS all fine and good until the fossil record led evolutionary scientists to give up on Gradualism, and move on to Punctuated Equilibrium, and eras of species “explosions.”

        Intelligent Design does solve the problem: God made us this way; no need for evolution to produce a body that can develop a cell it depends on while also having a biological imperative to kill that cell. However, with ID, you don’t escape the observability problem, and there is literally a logical weakness since ID is literally built on a Deux-Ex-Machina explanation. To accept ID, you have to add in other lines of argument.

      • TheLastDemocrat wrote “Evolution cannot be a fact. We have not observed it.”

        There is no “we” for I have no way of knowing that you observe what I observe.

        “Observation is a hallmark of science.”

        I have not observed gravity and neither have you. I observe the effects of gravity.

        “the species we see…”

        There is no “we” for I have no way of knowing whether you see what I see.

        “…will always require some assumptions”

        Species do not require assumptions. You can choose to make assumptions if you wish.

        “It is fine to believe in evolution as a concept”

        Thank you for your approval!

        “…species we see came from; but we should practice skepticism”

        You seem unusually fond of “we”.

        “How did we evolve sperm”

        I use a Hewlett-Packard Model 6216A Sperm Evolver. Now that I’ve had my children I use it only to charge batteries; a somewhat unglorious fate for a fine instrument, but it seems HP no longer makes fine engineering instruments of this kind. Still, it gracefully handles the constant current to constant voltage transition necessary to charge lithium polymer batteries.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HP%E2%sperm_evolver

        “Intelligent Design does solve the problem”

        I do not perceive a problem to be solved. Arguments among scientists are welcome to stay among scientists. However, if you were to decide to do it again or do it yourself, having the knowledge of the actual procedure — repeatability — is in the realm of science; waiting for God to create another universe is not.

        I think you are a provocateur. Still, I’ll play the game.

      • TLD asks “How did we evolve sperm”

        Since I did this just last week I still remember!

        It seems that the single-celled gamete came first and the mammal that surrounds it is just the wrapper. So your question reverses the order of operations — the correct question is how did the sperm evolve its human? I don’t know but it seems to have (1) taken a long time and (2) wasn’t always successful.

      • Last Dem,

        “However, with ID, you don’t escape the observability problem, and there is literally a logical weakness since ID is literally built on a Deux-Ex-Machina explanation. To accept ID, you have to add in other lines of argument.”

        How is Evolution any different in that regard (if you believe it is)?

  27. Most of those words are evaluative, as opposed to factual. In the ad world the positive ones are called puffery, which just means extravagant praise. But adman David Ogilvy said that “facts will always outsell flatulent puffery.” Unfortunately, this also means on Mad Avenue that if you don’t have a solid factual defense of your product, the agency may resort to puffery and brag and boast. In the long run, strong sales will not result. Let’s hope sales of these hyperbolic studies eventually also declne!

  28. From ‘State of Fear’:
    “If you study the media, as my graduate students and I do, seeking to find shifts in normative conceptualization, you discover something extremely interesting. We looked and transcripts of news programs of the major networks – NBC, ABC, CBS. We also looked at stories I the newspapers of New York, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle. We counted the frequency of certain concepts and terms used by the media. The results were very striking.

    There was a major shift in the fall of 1989. Before that time, the media did not make excessive use of terms such as ‘crisis,’ ‘catastrophe,’ ‘cataclysm,’ ‘plague,’ or ‘disaster.’ For example, during the 1980’s, the word crisis appeared in news reports about as often as the world ‘budget.’ In addition, prior to 1989, adjectives such as ‘dire,’ ‘unprecedented,’ ‘dreaded,’ were not common in television reports or newspaper headlines. But then it all changed.

    These terms started to become more and more common. The word ‘catastrophe’ was used five times more often in 1995 than it was in 1985. Its used doubled again b the year 2000. And the stories changed, too. There was a heightened emphasis on fear, worry, danger, uncertainty, panic.”

    “I am leading to the notion of social control. To the requirement of every sovereign state to exert control over the behavior of its citizens, to keep them orderly and reasonably docile. To keep them driving on the right side of the road – or the left, as the case may be. To keep them paying taxes. And of course we know that social control is best managed through fear.

    For fifty years, Western nations had maintained their citizens in a state of perpetual fear. Fear of the other side. Fear of nuclear war. The Communist menace. The Iron Curtain. The Evil Empire. And within the Communist countries, the same in reverse. Fear of us. Then, suddenly, I the fall of 1989, it was all finished. Gone, vanished. Over. The fall of the Berlin Wall created a vacuum of fear. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something had to fill it.

    And the evidence shows that the environmental crisis has taken the place of the Cold War. Of course, now we have radical fundamentalism and post-9/11 terrorism to make us afraid, and those are certainly real reasons for fear, but that’s not my point. My point is, there is always a cause for fear. The cause may change over time, but the fear is always with us. Before terrorism we feared the toxic environment. Before that we had the Communist menace. The point is, although the specific cause of our far may change, we are never without the fear itself. Fear pervades society in all its aspects. Perpetually.”

  29. It may have started with the word “very”.

    As soon as someone says something is “very …” I turn off. As in, “It’s going to be VERY cold tonight”, “The solution was VERY concentrated”, “Catastrophic Global Warming is VERY well founded.”
    VERY means nothing. Generally it covers up sloppiness or laziness.
    “Very cold” because I can’t be bothered to make a reliable estimate.
    “Very concentrated” because I couldn’t be bothered to find out – Moles per litre, saturated – there could be many options.
    CGW Very well founded – give us some hard data – “Nulis in Verba”
    VERY in writing and speaking is like waving my arms about and shouting. It adds nothing except to reveal my argument is weak.

    • And at the other end…the word “only”.

      Sometimes as in “its only going to rain a few millimeters”, sometimes in “I only wanted a drink of milk”, when dealing with a five year old and a kitchen floor covered with an increasingly expensive moo juice.

    • Mrs. Bobo warned me and the rest of my English class 50 years ago, “Beware of people who use adjectives to describe the finite.”

  30. My first attempt at writing for a journal submission got me a session (in fact several sessions) with one of the professor-ed co-authors that lambasted my use of color commentary (IE “very good”, etc). I scrubbed and scrubbed for days and days till it met his standards for technical writing devoid of such “female” prose.

    Yes I know it sounds sexist in today’s atmosphere, but I finally got the point. Alas, it seems we have birthed a generation of prose writers in science positions, or at the very least, behavioral scientists who have been hired to study climate and weather observations and data but have not been schooled in how to write about such observations and data, let alone how to statistically analyze such things.

  31. I was happy to see this story appear so quickly. It was covered on last night’s As It Happens (CBC Radio 1) and I was going to send a heads-up letter to WUWT if WUWT hadn’t covered the story already (and well).

    Ian M

  32. The problem is that people are using the word “robust” in a way that turns the original concept on its head.

    Originally, “robust results” meant that they tracked reality very well even when the truth model was subjected to revision for various disturbing inputs.

    Today, they mean they can find a way to revise various disturbing inputs to make the results track reality.

    Since this can always be done, any result becomes robust, and the description tautological and meaningless.

  33. Malleus Maleficarum 1486:
    “However, it has been found that witches have freely confessed that they have done such things, and there are various instances of it, which could be mentioned, in addition to what has already been said. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that, just as easily as they raise hailstorms, so can they cause lightning and storms at sea; and so no doubt at all remains on these points. ”

    “And so no doubt at all remains on these points” would now be translated into, “these findings are unequivocal and robust. A consensus exists and the science is therefore settled”.

    There is nothing new under the sun. Only old wine in new bottles.

    • That is so true. Every generation indulges itself in the conceit that it is uniquely enlightened compared to its benighted forbears. Or, maybe every other generation, and the ones in-between get to clean up the mess created by the hubris of that immediately preceding. I think that more or less explains why great wars and periods of turmoil tend to be separated by a generational turnover period of about 20-30 years.

      People get the idea that they are immune to the fallacies that plagued earlier peoples because they know in hindsight where those people went wrong – kind of like saying you know how to win the game on Sunday because you know how you fumbled the ball last Sunday. And, they think they are scientific because they consume the technologies that came about from the study of science, e.g., because they have iPhones. They don’t know how it works, but it’s really cool, and they have one.

      • All the witches flew their CO2 brooms to Paris this last month to complain about how flying brooms is causing the planet to heat up then they all flew home again and flew off onto vacations to very warm places where they played golf.

        Golf is a devilish game!

    • Thank you for this post about the Malleus Maleficarum, aka the “Witch Hammer”, first published in 1486 and used by the Roman Catholic Church as a tool of the Inquisition, to torture and murder hundreds of thousands of innocents.

      Nowadays, we have the modern equivalent of the Witch Hammer: the phrase “The science is settled”.

      “The science is settled” is used by scoundrels and imbeciles to dismiss scientific reality – that we still do not know enough about climate science to even agree on what drives what (for example, warmists “KNOW” that atmospheric CO2 primarily drives global temperatures, but the data shows that atmospheric CO2 LAGS temperatures at all measured time scales – the warmists are in effect alleging that the future is primarily driving the past).

      For clarity in this context, scoundrels are warmists who know that global warming alarmism is a fraud, and imbeciles believe it is real.

      The list of academics dismissed from their posts for speaking out against the falsehoods of global warming alarmism is growing, and the number of people compromised by this new Witch Hammer number in the millions.

      Global warming alarmist mania will run its course, but it will take years to do so, and society will continue to squander trillions of dollars in scarce global resources in this new false alarm against alleged catastrophic manmade global warming, in a cooling world.

      Regards and Happy New Year, Allan

      http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/downloads/MalleusAcrobat.pdf

      [excerpts]

      THE
      MALLEUS MALEFICARUM
      of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger
      Unabridged online republication of the 1928 edition. Introduction to the 1948 edition is also included.
      Translation, notes, and two introductions by The Reverend Montague Summers. A Bull of Innocent VIII.

      The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch Hammer), first published in 1486, is arguably one of the most infamous books ever written, due primarily to its position and regard during the Middle Ages. It served as a guidebook for Inquisitors during the Inquisition, and was designed to aid them in the identification, prosecution, and dispatching of Witches.

      At the time of the writing of The Malleus Maleficarum, there were many voices within the Christian community (scholars and theologians) who doubted the existence of witches and largely regarded such belief as mere superstition. The authors of the
      Malleus addressed those voices in no uncertain terms, stating: “Whether the Belief that there are such Beings as Witches is so Essential a Part of the Catholic Faith that Obstinacy to maintain the Opposite Opinion manifestly savours of Heresy.” The immediate, and lasting, popularity of the Malleus essentially silenced those voices. It made very real the threat of one being branded a heretic, simply by virtue of one’s questioning of the existence of witches and, thus, the validity of the Inquisition.

      It must be noted that during the Inquisition, few, if any, real, verifiable, witches were ever discovered or tried. Often the very accusation was enough to see one branded a witch, tried by the Inquisitors’ Court, and burned alive at the stake. Estimates of the death toll during the Inquisition worldwide range from 600,000 to as high as 9,000,000 (over its 250 year long course); either is a chilling number when one realizes that nearly all of the accused were women, and consisted primarily of outcasts and other suspicious persons. Old women. Midwives. Jews. Poets. Gypsies. Anyone who did not fit within the contemporary view of pious Christians were suspect, and easily branded “Witch”. Usually to devastating effect.

      It must also be noted that the crime of Witchcraft was not the only crime of which one could be accused during the Inquisition. By questioning any part of Catholic belief, one could be branded a heretic. Scientists were branded heretics by virtue of repudiating certain tenets of Christian belief (most notably Galileo, whose theories on the nature of planets and gravitational fields was initially branded heretical). Writers who challenged the Church were arrested for heresy (sometimes formerly accepted writers whose works had become unpopular). Anyone who questioned the validity of any part of Catholic belief did so at their own risk. The Malleus Maleficarum played an important role in bringing such Canonical law into being, as often the charge of heresy carried along with it suspicions of witchcraft.

      [end of excerpt]

  34. I would think hyperbole would be sympotomatic of post-normal science, where “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent”. Climate “science” is rife with it of course.

  35. Is it certain this isn’t just a reflection of the number of pages available growing over time? I don’t see a “per page, per chapter, per book” or pages per year/decade, etc. Absolute numbers pulled from a time-variable pool are a poor indicator.

  36. Scientists in a given discipline tend not only to read papers relating to that discipline, but also tend to follow the format, styles, and the verbiage of those papers. They are just like everybody else, in fact. So we shouldn’t be surprised if styles and even individual words ‘trend’ as has been described here. I don’t think it adds much to our understanding of what is going on in science.

    But yes, modern papers do seem to be increasingly ‘promoted’ by the style of their titles and the content of their abstracts, and that is agreed to be regrettable.

  37. There’s nothing new about this sort of thing. 20 years ago when I was writing gene therapy papers it was well known that you needed certain key words in your publications to increase likelihood of publication. These were actually ‘hot’, ‘sexy’, ‘cool’ words in biomedicine at the time. So things like: ‘angiogenesis’, ‘p53’, ‘tumour suppressor gene’ always helped make your paper more ‘topical’. Of course, you couldn’t bring them in if they weren’t relevant to your research, but if they were, you can bet your bottom dollar that those writing papers with the option of including them did so.

    Thing was, this helped you get published in ‘high impact publications’ which were the equivalent of your research scientist ‘credit score’: the higher the impact factor, the ‘better’ your research was (the fact that that was somewhat contentious is neither here nor there). More to the point was the fact that powerful Professors were on the editorial boards of ‘high impact publications’ and papers from those labs had a much higher chance of being accepted for publication. Nepotisjm? Corruption? The way of the world?? You take your pick.

    But if you want to create a ‘magic circle’ you do this: you create ‘high impact factor publications’ with the magic circle on the editorial board. Then you make ‘high impact factor publications’ key in tenure track position selection panels, you make them key for the awarding of major grants from govt funding bodies.

    Once you’ve done that, you’ve created a great little cartel for 20 years.

    That’s the way science works.

    The very best scientists always get to the top. But for the league below them, the absolutely most important thing is to get politically connected.

    • Reminds me of the climate science racket.
      They declare that only those recognized as a “climate scientist” has a right to express an opinion on climate science.
      How do you become a “climate scientist” one might ask.
      Those who are already recognized as “climate scientists” declare that you are one of course, and obviously, anyone who rocks the grant money gravy train will not be recognized as one of the club.

  38. Headlines that will not get you ‘research’ funding , everything is ok, there are no changes , things could not be better , and finally the one you will never see , oddly especially in ‘settled science ‘ , no further research is required .

    Add to that the fact that within climate ‘science’ it is clear that it is ‘impact’ of the paper not its ‘validity’ that makes the big difference in both personal and professional fronts. And you can see why your getting so much hyperbole.

    In most organisations or political parties its ‘culture’ is as much has anything subject to the ‘culture ‘ of its leaders , now consider the ‘culture’ of people like Mann etc and you understand how an area already subject the above problems can become so rotten.

  39. Seeming as the authors of this paper themselves would have had to quote the words they were studying the increase of, did this increase the frequency of those words in the papers in general? I’m guessing it did so by 0.3% with a margin of error of +/- 3% (tip of my hat to the Greenland ice post that I read before this one)

  40. I’ll bet the papers of Newton, Einstein, Planck, et al had no hyperbole and were simply matter of fact in their presentation, possibly they were even humble. Someone here has probably read several of the classics and can enlighten us on this.

    One thing’s for sure, most of the words under the graph in the article have absolutely no place in a dissertation that is classified as scientific. Re-read them and see what I mean. They look picked out of high school conversations.

    • Well, I did recently read Newton’s Opticks, which is much less “formal” and math oriented than Principia, but even so, I can’t recall any hyperbole at all. The focus was the experimentation, any excitement I sensed was about the joy of discovering things. He engages in speculation only when clearly labeled so, and then in bulk, essentially. Reasoning for or against this or that idea seemed moire a display of great depth and breadth of consideration, than advocacy of any sort, to me.

      (And it was a great read, I felt)

      • Hmm . . From the wiki –

        “However, reproduction of the experiments has demonstrated the validity of the results.[45][not in citation given] In 2007, Daniel L. Hartl and Daniel J. Fairbanks suggested that Fisher incorrectly interpreted these experiments. They found it likely that Mendel scored more than 10 progeny, and that the results matched the expectation. They conclude, “Fisher’s allegation of deliberate falsification can finally be put to rest, because on closer analysis it has proved to be unsupported by convincing evidence.”[41][46] In 2008 Hartl and Fairbanks (with Allan Franklin and AWF Edwards) wrote a comprehensive book in which they concluded that there were no reasons to assert Mendel fabricated his results, nor that Fisher deliberately tried to diminish Mendel’s legacy.[47] Reassessment of the statistical analyses also disprove the notion of confirmation bias in Mendel’s results.[48][49]”

      • Not buying it, JK. I was taught 45 years ago that Mendel’s results were perfect. For example, he’d get 75 of one genotype, and 25 of the other. Which he obviously didn’t. We called it the “Mendelian Fudge Factor.” Trying to convince people of his theory would have been impossible if he reported an actual 77-23, for example. He’d have to teach people (unknown) statistics as well as genetics.

      • PS ~ To me, as statement like this is effectively hyperbolic;

        “Gregor Mendel flat out lied.”

        And this is not,

        “I think Gregor Mendel flat out lied.”

        To me, the basic problem this article addresses is far more widespread than just the realm of scientific papers. There is an epidemic of what might be called “error bar free” speaking, which involves “juicing” arguments/propositions through habitual “absolutist” language use, as I “hear” the world.

  41. I’ve disliked the word “robust” ever since it entered the computer science lexicon as the follow-on to “structured programming” around 1970. In this case it means software that handles error conditions gracefully and can keep running through “novel” situations. I’m not certain why I accepted structured programming, possibly because it was around when I started college, and “robust” just kind of showed up as an unbidden bandwagon and lots of people lept aboard. Perhaps my problem was that they must not had been writing robust code before being shown The Way.

    • Ric Werme wrote “I’ve disliked the word “robust” ever since it entered the computer science lexicon as the follow-on to “structured programming” around 1970…Perhaps my problem was that they must not had been writing robust code before being shown The Way.”

      I still write structured programming. The alternative is unstructured — spaghetti code. It is remarkably difficult to structure FORTRAN, a bit easier to structure COBOL. Either of them with “goto” can make a program amazingly difficult to follow, debug, maintain.

      Even modern languages can still usually be “structured”. Start with a design that itself incorporates the problem to be solved and the method to solve it. All these new methods with “scrums” and so on practically guarantee bugs, and they know and accept it.

      The “C” language incorporates the idea nicely; “top down programming” — start with a do nothing shell or container that theoretically does *everything*: int main (){}; There’s your entire program right there. Then you start writing top level functions to do the Big Things. Then you take each big thing and write functions to do the pieces of the Big Thing.

      There’s not a lot of code re-use except at the bottom and if there’s a significant design change it can produce a huge ripple effect; but regardless of those problems a well-structured program is a beauty and can be maintained ten years later. It probably has a range of optimum size.

      • I’ve always used robust to describe a program that when presented with a unique error condition, is able to shut down gracefully and leave you enough of a log so that you can figure out what went wrong.

      • I did Fortran and Cobol for 30 years. I told people I was a “systems archaeologist.” I spent my time trying to figure out what people were thinking when they wrote the code.

      • “systems archaeologist.”

        I love it!

        “I spent my time trying to figure out what people were thinking when they wrote the code.”

        I still do that especially with programs I am obliged to maintain written in PHP and ASP.

      • C allows untyped variables and type casting which is a bit ugly, and global vars. C++, Ada and Pascal do away with these to varying degrees – Ada better than most. Most climatologists probably limit them selves to Excel Macro Language. REXX and Perl are the original bungie languages. You can wrap anything in it. Procedural vs object oriented is probably as hotly contested as the two views of climate reality. Object Perl comes close to lipstick on a pig.

      • “C allows untyped variables”

        Nonsense. Every variable has a well defined type in C.

        “type casting which is a bit ugly,”

        Type casts are just explicit type conversion, and essential tool.

        “C++, Ada and Pascal do away with these to varying degrees”

        Explicit type conversions exist in all these languages, and are very important.

        C++ has not one but five ways to perform explicit type conversions: C-style, C++ style (syntactically similar to object construction, but semantically different), static_cast, const_cast, reinterpret_cast.

        Only ML type languages cannot have such type conversions, because of its type system.

        “Procedural vs object oriented is probably as hotly contested as the two views of climate reality”

        The OOP cult and associated nonsense is as progressive and Californian as climate “science”.

        OOP is as well defined as “the climate”, some people say there are as much definitions of OOP as there are OOP programmers.

  42. Try using the word “novel” in a submission to Science or their related journals. You will get upbraided by their very good editors. Don’t try any other loaded adjectives either.

  43. How about this for NASA hype
    http://www.nasa.gov/feature/a-still-growing-el-nino-set-to-bear-down-on-us

    The current strong El Niño brewing in the Pacific Ocean shows no signs of waning, as seen in the latest satellite image from the U.S./European Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 mission.

    El Niño 2015 has already created weather chaos around the world. Over the next few months, forecasters expect the United States to feel its impacts as well.

    The latest Jason-2 image bears a striking resemblance to one from December 1997, by Jason-2’s predecessor, the NASA/Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) Topex/Poseidon mission, during the last large El Niño event. Both reflect the classic pattern of a fully developed El Niño. The images can be viewed at:…

    “he new Jason-2 image shows that the amount of extra-warm surface water from the current El Niño (depicted in red and white shades) has continuously increased, especially in the eastern Pacific within 10 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. In the western Pacific, the area of low sea level (blue and purple) has decreased somewhat from late October. The white and red areas indicate unusual patterns of heat storage. In the white areas, the sea surface is between 6 and 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) above normal, while in the red areas, it is about 4 inches (10 centimeters) above normal. The green areas indicate normal conditions. The height of the ocean water relates, in part, to its temperature, and is an indicator of the amount of heat stored in the ocean below.”

  44. Word inversion. Common words now have the opposite meaning to the traditional one. So robust now equals flaky, liberal now means illiberal or intolerant etc.

  45. OK, so science uses more hyperbole than other fields.

    I’d be interested to hear which science specialty uses the most. My money would be on Climate “Science.”

  46. “In that case, words used to describe scientific results are no longer driven by the content but by marketability.”

    That has been apparent for some time, noted in the papers on marketability of the climate change narrative. Many papers are more interested in how to sell the idea—especially those written by psychologists.

  47. It seems to me the problem is not merely that the use is rising, but that these words are used at all. Most of them–disappointing, amazing, unacceptable, etc.– are completely inappropriate in scientific writing.

    • When I read anything from a scientist that amazed, surprised, or disappointed them, my first thought is….so, you got a result you didn’t anticipate…that tells me that you don’t fully understand the subject of your analysis.

  48. “The number of papers containing any of the positive words in their title or abstract rose from an average of 2% in 1974–80 to 17.5% in 2014. Use of the 25 negative words rose from 1.3% to 2.4% over the same period, according to the study.”

    Whoever wrote this should not be trusted as a science writer, and should be given a scholarship to a Numeracy Seminar before they harm my scientific sensibilities any more.

  49. [Comment deleted. “Jankowski” has been stolen by the identity thief pest. All Jankowski comments saved and deleted from public view. You wasted your time, David. What a sad, pathetic, wasted life. -mod]

  50. I am a scientist (not a climate scientist) and it is well known amongst more experienced scientists that hype and overselling are rife. Overinterpretation of results is also a major problem in the life sciences. This is in large part necessitated by the funding systems we have to deal with, and the grossly unfair metrics by which our ability as scientists is judged. The fact is, Vinkers is spot on when he says: “words used to describe scientific results are no longer driven by the content but by marketability”.

    It all has to do with grant funding. If you are a researcher (as I am), your job depends on it. No grant, no job. Scientific honesty does not tend to get noticed. Exaggeration is encouraged, albeit unwittingly, by such exercises as a “Pathways to Impact Statement”, now a mandatory requirement for UK Research Council grant applications. To get noticed, you have to explain how your research will address an unmet medical need, or one of society’s “grand challenges” (as defined by a Research Council strategic plan document), etc etc. Funders seem more and more interested in giving grants which promise to result in a direct, quantifiable benefit to society in the short term. Everyone wants a shortcut, but nobody seems too keen on funding the nitty-gritty, basic level (or speculative) research which may actually lead to such improvements in the long term, and which (although the core of science) is getting sorely neglected. The consequences in the future may be dire.

    The bottom line: scientific research and the system which surrounds it are in a mess. A lot of those involved know this very well. Funding is often more about marketability and salesmanship than anything else; and as the percentage of grants getting funded goes down with one cut after another, and people are scrambling to save their jobs or careers, hype goes up. Inevitably. I am not going to propose a solution (there are plenty of people doing that), but merely give my point of view. Whereas more investment would be welcome to reflect a considerable growth in the number of academic researchers doing science over the past 10 years or so, merely throwing more money at a faulty system is not the answer.

    • Observes Mark:

      …scientific research and the system which surrounds it are in a mess. A lot of those involved know this very well. Funding is often more about marketability and salesmanship than anything else; and as the percentage of grants getting funded goes down with one cut after another, and people are scrambling to save their jobs or careers, hype goes up.

      Definitely true in clinical research here in these United States, where funding tends to flow to those whose applications promise “more bang for the buck” in terms of evidentiary support for particular diagnostic and therapeutic methods, particularly those which reduce care-related costs while securing mensurable improvements in outcomes.

      The history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.

      – Mark Twain

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