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[Image above] Credit: Ilmicrofono Oggiono, Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In December 2022, the media was sent into a frenzy when U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had achieved “one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century.” Researchers at the laboratory had reportedly accomplished fusion ignition, which is when a controlled fusion reaction generates more energy than is needed to spark the reaction.

Fusion ignition is a long-sought goal of researchers because it would in theory provide a virtually unlimited energy source. However, the articles clamoring over the Lawrence Livermore breakthrough ignored a very important disclaimer—the energy required to power the lasers that sparked the fusion reaction.

The lasers delivered 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target, and the fusion reaction generated 3.15 megajoules of energy. However, the total energy needed to power the lasers was around 350 million joules, far more than the reaction’s 1 megajoule gain.

“While [the National Ignition Facility’s] lasers are not designed to be energy-efficient, this means that fusion is still far from a practical power source,” a ScienceNews article explains.

This story is just one example of how hype finds its way into science communication. Though the impact of overstating the findings in this case is minor, reporting results in an exaggerated manner can have serious repercussions, as demonstrated in the video below by communications coach Jo Filshie Browning.

Credit: TEDx Talks, YouTube

Despite the dangers of embellishing research results, the use of hyperbole in scientific literature is increasing, according to a recent editorial published in Nature Nanotechnology.

“Sadly, studies have shown that hyped expressions per paper published have doubled in the past 50 years, especially in the hard sciences, probably because academic findings in these disciplines tend to lack immediate real-world implications,” the journal editors write.

Yet hyperbole is not the only way to add flair to your writing. There are other more compelling and engaging methods for reporting your research that avoid misconstruing the results through hype. For example, a great deal about artistic writing can be learned from reading fantasy fiction novels, as explained by ACerS Fellow John Mauro, Dorothy Pate Enright Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University, in his episode of the Ceramic Tech Chat podcast.

Because of the expansive use of hype in the world around us, it can be difficult to identify hype in our own writing. The video below provides some useful tips on how to avoid hype and describes the approaches that allow effective communication instead.

Credit: AIhub, YouTube