September 30, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

The Lake Wobegon Effect in Science: Where Every Paper is Above Average

Lake Wobegon style scientific publishing
News from Lake Wobegon.

Garrison Keillor’s NPR show A Prairie Home Companion would sometimes report from a small fictional town call Lake Wobegon.

Frankly, I found that show really boring, but I always chuckled when I heard this line:

“Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Sometimes in the biomedical sciences including the stem cell field that particular Lake Wobegon description comes to mind.

A scientist might say ironically of certain labs or institutions:

Every paper is a transformative game-changing breakthrough, every discovery is a cure, all the new studies are better than the old ones, and all the science is super sexy.

We might call this the Lake Wobegon Effect in science: over-promotion, over-simplification, and outright hype. Scientific publishing has so many issues.

Can all science from one institution or one lab always be above average?

At some point it is just too much.

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