Moderation impossible? On hype, honesty and trust in the context of modern academic life


  • Brigitte Nerlich


This article deals with issues of hype in science and science journalism. It examines two cases of ‘hype’, one surrounding the discovery that neutrinos travel faster than light, or not; the other surrounding the discovery that the earth is warming, or not. These two cases are compared and contrasted, especially with a focus on discovering some of the pitfalls of ‘making science public’ in an era of hype. The analysis is carried out against the backdrop of an emerging ‘post-normal science’, the increasing pressure to make science public at an ever-faster pace, as well as the impact agenda in the UK. The paper shows that with relation to hype in science and science journalism, it might be useful to distinguish between honest hype and what one might call politicized hype. Using honest hype to make science public may be an option in fields of science that are relatively a-political, such as particle physics, an option that is probably unavailable in a highly politicized science, such as climate science. In this context, moderation seems as impossible as modesty on the part of the scientists involved.