Hammer Syndrome in Sciences

It is truly amazing how we the scientists behave like a person who has a hammer and (s)he wants to fix all the problems in the world using this hammer. Giver a problem, this person perceives that problem in a way that it becomes the head of a nail so the hammer could be used. Sometimes I feel that we scientists go one step further and if we can not perceive the problem as the head of a nail, we say lets assume that in many cases the problem can be considered the head of the nail.

This is so common that it is not even funny. People learn some tools that could be easily handled on — lets say on a powerful computer — and then they try to solve every problem using these tools. Now that is bad, but still OK. Recently I saw several reviews of several papers, only a small fraction of those had anything to do with me, that really was disappointing. In academia, reviews of papers are important because you could not publish your papers without good reviews. So reviews make or break papers and many times careers. Now the reviews that I called disappointing objected to author’s approach because they did not suggest or use the hammer. The reviewers failed to say why the hammer will be appropriate, they just objected to not using hammer because in their opinion the hammer will improve the solution.

Now it is entirely different that the authors whose paper is considered inadequate may also be using a hammer that is different than the hammer suggested by the reviewer.

It would appear that a nice trick to publish papers maybe to identify popular hammer(s) in a research community and then send your papers to the community that uses hammer similar to the one you like to use.

It may sound funny, but believe me, very few researchers pay attention to the problem that needs to be solved as much as how to handle the hammer and how to hit the head of the nail with it. Of course a good thing is that there are some people who care about solving a problem using approprite tools rather than using inly their favorite hammer.

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