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Why I Hate Science Writers July 29, 2020

Posted by geoff in News.
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Phys.org trumpeted this headline:

Steps toward room-temperature superconductivity

Wow! I said as I clicked on the link. After all, room temperature superconductors would change the world. It would be amazing if they could get superconduction at room temperature (~300K).

But when I clicked on the link, I was sorely disappointed:

“Superconductivity occurs at very , close to absolute zero or 0 Kelvin,” said Mauricio Terrones, …. “The alpha phase of Moly carbide is superconducting at 4 Kelvin.”

When layering metastable phases of molybdenum carbide with molybdenum sulfide, superconductivity occurs at 6 Kelvin, a 50% increase. Although this is not remarkable in itself—other materials have been shown to be superconductive at temperatures as high as 150 Kelvin—it was still an unexpected phenomenon that portends a new method to increase superconductivity at higher temperatures in other superconducting materials.

It certainly is completely unremarkable itself, and is nowhere close to being room temperature superconductivity. [Not that the work itself was bad – it’s actually very nice]

When one says “steps toward room temperature superconductivity,” it’s usually interpreted as “steps from the current state-of-the-art.” Not “steps from ground zero because we started back at 4K.”

Science writers these days are sensationalistic click-baiters. I hates ’em.

 

Comments»

1. Sobek - July 29, 2020

That’s something that science writers have in common with any other kinds of writers.

2. geoff - July 29, 2020

But science writers are supposed to have a higher degree of integrity(?)

3. Sobek - July 29, 2020

I wouldn’t say that writers have more or less integrity than others, just that the writer doesn’t have the same knowledge as the doer. You can’t write accurately, regardless of your intentions, if you don’t know the subject. I see this with law and crime writing constantly.

4. Sobek - July 29, 2020

I remember some gal on Twitter was offended because a scientist (who does The Science) dared to disagree with her (who writes about The Science), and she said something like “well screw me and my x number of years writing about science then…”

5. geoff - July 29, 2020

You can’t write accurately, regardless of your intentions, if you don’t know the subject.

Yabut this guy should have at least picked a less ambitious title. Even with the deficiencies of our modern education system, a writer should be able to tell the difference between 6K and 300K.

6. Sobek - July 29, 2020

I totally get that. Maybe this is a case of a guy (or a headline writer) goosing the headline to get more clicks. Or maybe it’s someone who doesn’t get that it’s harder to move from 4 to 8 (for example) than from 0 to 4.

Personally, I try to be as conscientious as possible about headlines because of how often they just don’t match the story. If I want to discuss the story with friends or coworkers, and it looks a little too on the nose, I check the text.

Even worse is the “watch this guy get totally PWNED on live TV!” YouTube video, because unless they’re literally stammering and incoherent, it’s oversold.

7. geoff - July 29, 2020

“Steps toward room-temperature superconductivity: You won’t believe what happens next!”

8. Sobek - July 29, 2020

5 Things You Won’t Believe You Can Fit Inside an Electric Outlet (Number 2 will Shock You!)

9. vaitguy - July 29, 2020

Somethings wrong in michaelscommentland yo. Sobek, the links are broken in your test emails.

10. Sobek - July 29, 2020

Yeah, it was doing weird stuff earlier when I posted that owl.


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