TO MANGLE a metaphor, you shouldn’t count your needles until you’ve finished searching the haystack. A promising bump in measurements made at the LHC has vanished, and with it hopes of a new dawn for high-energy physics.
Read more: Physicists look to the future as new particle dream dies
Such false starts are to be expected, so physicists talk in statistical jargon about how likely anomalies are to be real. “Five sigma”, meaning odds of one in 3.5 million that a result is down to random fluctuations, counts as a discovery like that of the Higgs boson. The latest bump, when announced last December, barely ranked two sigma: odds of one in 20 of being down to chance.
Normally, physicists wouldn’t even get out of bed for that. Yet theorists, starved of new physics, produced more than 500 papers claiming to explain the result. Excitement accounts for some of this frenzy, but much was just hastily rehashed old theories being reapplied in the hope they might catch on this time.
Alas, with the bump gone, these papers are unlikely to trouble the Nobel committee any time soon. Perhaps next time, theorists should heed experimentalists’ statistical warnings, and hold off until there is better data. Without it, they are really just writing fan fiction for the universe.
This article appeared in print under the headline “Too much, too soon”