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Higher Plane Of Hype

June 29, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 26

Bethany Halford’s invective against holy grails in scientific literature “knocked the ball out of the park” and was “right on the money” (C&EN, March 30, page 34). Clichés, vernacular, and argot have no place in serious technical publications. Their use (and overuse) is symptomatic of the colossal egos that seem to infest our technical community today. Too often we hear of discoveries or inventions that are “groundbreaking,” “earthshaking,” or “game-changing,” only to learn a few years later that they really weren’t that important.

Serious researchers would do better to simply publish their findings in complete, comprehensible form, without florid embellishment, and allow the true significance and importance of the work to be revealed in the fullness of time. A return to modesty would be welcomed.

Patrick A. Lofgren
Akron, Ohio

The enjoyable article on the numerous holy grails proclaimed in the chemical sciences is really pointing out the degree to which hype has exceeded all reasonable bounds in contemporary science. But this is no longer where it’s at. A recent press release from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (
2008/oxygen-0731.html) quotes Daniel Nocera on his preliminary work with a new anode material for the electrolysis of water: “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years.”

Even though the importance of the work has been questioned by knowledgeable electrochemists, it is clear that we have moved to a higher plane of hype. One may only wonder what comes next.

E. A. Chandross
Murray Hill, N.J.


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