What’s Your Science Maturity Level?
I went to a scientific talk the other day that seemed to leave half the audience inspired and the other
half frustrated. My frustrated colleagues insisted
that the speaker did not present any true “results.”
However, he did make some fascinating predictions
about what would be discovered 10 or 20 years from
now—forecasts that may be crucial for marketing
exercises and expensive experiments.
Was this a good talk or a bad talk?
Science or marketing?
Maybe it’s just a matter of taste. Some of us will
never be satisfied by a talk unless we see a hypothesis confidently confirmed or discarded. Others may
find that realm of topics too limiting and yearn for
a glimpse into the distant future.
Still, we often argue over the quality of our
colleagues’ presentations. When it is hiring time,
for example, and faculty candidates are parading
through your department, no doubt a common
topic of conversation is who gave the best talk.
And the maturity level of the research is often a
With these conversations in mind, I’d like to
suggest a numerical scale we can use to describe
scientific talks. This scale is not meant to weigh the
overall quality of a talk, but rather to resolve some of
the tension between those who prefer solid conclusions and those who enjoy more nebulous forecasting. The first steps are about idea development by an
individual scientist or research group; the last about
the acceptance of the idea by the community.
Marc Kuchner's numerical scale quantifies whether a scientist's talk will
be more focused on long-range predictions or unambiguous results.