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

Lake WobegonGarrison 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.

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

At some point it is just too much.

5 thoughts on “The Lake Wobegon Effect in Science: Where Every Paper is Above Average


  1. Mathematically speaking, it is possible that 94% of whatever observations are above average. It should be straightforward to find an example playing with the numbers on Excel, for example.

    What would be impossible, mathematically speaking, is that 94% of observations are above the MEDIAN.

    Stats 101.


    • I think that misses the point. 94% of the observers (scientists) cannot be above average compared to each other in terms of a readout such as accuracy by which they are all measured.


    • “playing with the numbers” to find a pattern that fits your preconceived theory?

      maybe you should have also taken ethics 101

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