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Just the right amount of hyperbole

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

I get accused of exaggeration and sensationalism. Verdict: guilty! Technically correct! I do exaggerate. But it’s mostly deliberate and measured. It’s an editorial policy to do it just so. Like a bartender mixing a drink, I make choices about the proportions of my ingredients. And hyperbole is a precious ingredient, when used wisely.

Every time I summarize a topic, I have to exaggerate, because exaggeration and summary are inseparable. Every summary is an oversimplification, a charicature of the topic that exaggerates key features at the expense of detailed fidelity. If you spell out enough nuances to avoid oversimplification, you’re not summarizing anymore. And I need to summarize constantly, and so I am constantly exaggerating — exaggerating the key features of a topic. Of course, wherever possible I will link to more information about the topic, where the nuances can be explored.

But in any given article on, there are usually dozens of passages that summarize, oversimplify, and exaggerate the most relevant key feature of a related topic. It’s a vital part of making dry material a little easier and more interesting to read. Information without personality is just data, not “reading.” I trust my readers to forgive some hyperbole and to “know what I mean” without having to tediously spell out a list of disclaimers at every turn.

Everything I write is obviously my opinion and there’s a strong and deliberate element of “infotainment” — I’m always balancing facts with at least a little bit of flare and whimsy, and sometimes that means overstating things for “dramatic” effect. The trick is to do it just the right amount, without ever steamrolling over important facets of the truth. Getting that balance right is one of the things that makes great journalism great.

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