Nature editorial on hyped-up science

”Researchers have no choice but to reach out to the public for support. But when they do so, they do not serve themselves well by promising results they cannot deliver.”

- Editorial in Nature

American biomedical research proponents have been shooting themselves in the foot by declaring that they will solve particular problems within a finite period of time, according to a recent editorial in Nature. As most scientists know, the gathering of reliable knowledge is not well known for conforming to a schedule. For example, Bill Clinton announced in 1997 that the United States would produce a vaccine for AIDS within a decade. Not only did that milestone pass unfulfilled last year, but a recent high-profile failure of Merck’s latest vaccine candidate showed that the virus is still eluding our efforts in a high-profile and publicly humiliating way.

Merck, we are told, has partly itself to blame: although the trial was well-designed, the vaccine was not fully ready for clinical trials. But patient assessment was pushed forward because of the weight of expectation: “the field's need to show the public that progress is being made, thereby justifying the millions of dollars it receives from philanthropists and taxpayers.” Yet, as the editorial points out, with every failure, “public scrutiny grows”, so dicing with the future remains a risky game.

You can read the rest of the piece here.