The Golden Hippocampus Awards


A golden hippocampus might be worth a lot, but it wouldn’t be able to remember much.  The Golden* Hippocampus Awards (aka “the Hippies”) were established to honor outstanding achievement in the misrepresentation of the findings and implications of neuroscience to the general public.  The physical award (pictured above) symbolizes the mismatch between the popular credence given to a piece of neuroscience writing, on the one hand, and its actual scientific merit, on the other.

The goal of the award is to introduce more peer review into popular neuroscience writing – particularly magazines and newspapers – than is currently provided by book reviews.

Many practicing neuroscientists routinely shake their heads in dismay – or mumble more loudly than usual – upon reading yet another popular misrepresentation of their own work (or, worse, one inappropriately lauding that of a rival). The Golden* Hippocampus Award nomination process gives them a chance to set the record straight anonymously, and with a minimum of effort.

We are now accepting nominations for this past spring’s least useful popular neuroscience writing.  If you wish to nominate a piece of writing, please do so as a comment to this post.  Nominations may be anonymous, for obvious reasons.  If you wish your email not to be linked to your nomination, please use goldenhippocampusawards@gmail.com – the password is thehippies, if you need to log on – along with a made up name that can uniquely identify you in the discussions.

However, remember that you must present publication information, preferably a link to the piece, and your rationale for the honor.  This is not a forum for slander or ad hominem attacks. Our goal isn’t to be mean, but to create a peer review system for pop neuroscience.  Only non-personal, respectful, preferably humorous critiques on the merits will be posted.  Each reasonable nominee will be given its own post, to allow focused, serious discussion.

Note that the nominee is not a writer, but a piece of writing. We all make mistakes – I make tons of them – and it says nothing about a given author for his or her writing to be, in places, silly.  The goal is not to drive anyone from the field, but simply hold their writing to a high standard.

The nominated test may be in any category – book, newspaper, magazine or epublication.  (Sadly, I must excuse this blog from contention, for fear of becoming an infinite regress, which is not the goal.)  A page will be set up for each nominee, with links to reviews and open comments at the bottom. Authors of the pieces in question may respond.

Members of the academy (readers of this blog, minus me) will be asked vote on top five contenders by June 30th, and the Golden* Hippocampus will be awarded electronically July 1st. I won’t vote or attempt to influence results.

We’ll award one prize each quarter, and at year’s end will award the 2011 Golden* Hippocampus, for the year’s Neuroscience Writing Least Worth Remembering, to the winners’ winner. Who knows – if we get enough nominations, we may even have categories – Least Memorable Book, Essay, Magazine Story, Blog, etc.

Please try to include information on the criteria on which members of the academy will be asked to vote – and which will be used to calculate a Golden* Hippocampus score.  These include (but are certainly not restricted to – this is a work in progress and a group effort):

Ballyhoo: Amount of publicity received.  Publications by major newspapers, magazines or publishing houses are obviously more damaging to the public interest than small blogs.

Baloney: Distortions of the underlying data being reported.  A classic technique, for example, is the use of inappropriate metaphors, in which readers, by understanding the metaphor, misunderstand the underlying article.

Cherry Picking: Selective reporting of the underlying data that misrepresents the gist of the paper.

Spin: Packaging the results of the science so as to support some political, moral or other agenda.

Glibness: Glossing over details in a high handed and careless manner.

Readers are encouraged to identify further grounds – preferably with catchy names – for nomination.

We will construct a running formula for giving each piece a single composite score, likely a product of the article’s dissemination (Ballyhoo) and intrinsic silliness (Baloney).

* Golden Hippocampi are constructed of iron pyrite (FeS2). To avoid fracture during shipping, only electronic photographs of the trophy will be disseminated.

4 Comments

  1. Let’s not forget the age old “hooks of celebrity gossip, sexual appeal or mating tips and the all time fav of media everywhere: fear -your children/dog /husband/mother/father/block/neighborhood/city/cats will die today!! In order or priority. I hate cats.

    Oops. there is always reinforcing the status quo — a big draw. So that is what the hippiecampus looks like!

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