A reader writes:
Sure, the media play their part in the "cycle of anticipation and disappointment" with science, but scientists profit from it immensely as well. The recent New York Times article on the Human Genome Project's failure to produce miracle cures demonstrates the "disappointment" part of the cycle. But it also points out the ways in which scientists themselves were fueling the anticipation with grandiose promises of miraculous advances in medicine. Blaming the media for this cycle is totally naive.
There are two interpretations of those promises made by scientists, and they are both right. First, they are just part of the political game of science. To attract resources you need to show the potential public value of the work, even if the claims are a bit flimsy. Second, our tendency to accept those claims stems from our overriding faith in the ability of science and technology to solve our problems, no matter how complex. That is exactly what Lehrer was getting at in the first place. We may not like it, but technocratic approaches using reductionist science aren't cut out for cloud type problems, especially those with a strong social component (health, climate change, energy, etc).