Picking the Stories Worth Telling in Science - Emoji Take the Stage on Science Friday / by James Wade

Orchids, Zika virus, tigers, brain-computer interfaces, and emojis - what do all of these have in common? Probably not much except that Ira Plato covered each of them on the April 15th episode of Science Friday. Although I'm usually a big fan of the show, I was doing some major eye rolling during one of their segments this week.

In a new study from the Grouplens research group at the University of Minnesota, the researchers find that emoji interpretation depends in part on a user's platform. Android users see a different emoji than iPhone users. In fact, one of the advertised features of the upcoming Android N is the new and improved emoji. After quantifying the discordance in emoji interpretation, the researchers state that there is a "significant potential for miscommunication, both for individual emoji renderings and for different emoji renderings across platforms."

Here's what bothers me about the story: their findings are obvious and their methods are boring. Who's surprised that people have different interpretations of emoji? What listener is surprised that the researched pulled off an online survey about emoji?

All of that said, let me state explicitly that I'm not trying to attack the researchers. Sometimes our results are boring as are the methods we used to get there. That does not mean the study should not be done. Gaps in the literature often need to be filled, and seemingly dull investigations have often yielded fascinating discoveries. Where I'd draw the line is with the production team for Science Friday. I can't understand why they chose to cover this given the vast availability of fascinating studies. Maybe I'm being unfair. Sometimes there are fluff pieces used to fill the airtime. Not every segment can be radio gold. For those times where reaching two hours is a stretch, I'd much prefer reaching into the archives for us listeners to relive the great segments from all the years of the show.

I have yet to fully grasp what makes a story worthy of news coverage (other than anything I publish, of course!), nor do I fully understand what makes a discovery important. But in the immortal words of Justice Stewart "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description..., and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."