Sunday, 7 August 2016

Why Science Works - LHC Blip Vanishes

Blip flop as tantalising bump in Large Hadron Collider data disappears | Science | The Guardian

These little news items about science getting something wrong, or changing it's collective mind, seem to excite creationists inordinately, appealing as creationism does to the ignorant and scientifically illiterate in society.

But of course, this is exactly what science is all about. It is all about honestly assessing and reassessing the evidence; about checking and rechecking and above all being prepared to change its collective mind when the evidence changes.

Some eight months ago scientists using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN announced that they had seen an unexpected blip in the data which suggested an entirely new and unexpected particle. If proved correct it might have meant Nobel prizes and would have opened up an entirely new branch of science to explore and explain this particle. Some speculated that it might be the elusive 'graviton' - the particle manifestation of the gravity wave.

If it had been real of course it would have been one of the big projects for this year - to study its properties to try and understand what it is. We are not greatly surprised it has gone away, it is just a pity because of course it would have been a fantastic discovery.

David Charlton, professor of particle physics,
University of Birmingham and spokesperson for the Atlas Collaboration at Cern.
But then they did what good scientists should do and tried to reproduce their results.

What they found was... nothing. The blip had been a statistical anomaly, the sort of chance variance that statistics can occasionally produce and the reason science never expresses complete certainty in the first place. And so they called a press conference to tell the world.

Science, of course, demands complete openness and honesty and insists the results of experiments be open to scrutiny, and above all be repeated and verified. This is why we can have the sort of confidence in science that we can't possibly have in 'faith' which, by definition can have no evidence which could be subject to scrutiny, let alone be repeatable and verifiable.

This is why there are so many different religions; so many different faiths; so many different religious opinions and no way whatsoever to decide which if any of them have any validity whatsoever.

It's also why there are so many charlatans fleecing so many credulous people who are prepared to pay out good money to have someone tell them their evidence-free opinions are just as good as those of scientists.

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2 comments :

  1. An excellent example of "how science works". Thank you for your erudite comment. I read all of your posts, but as a non-scientist I am generally unable to understand your detailed explanations. Nonetheless, I have learned much more by reading them than by not doing so.

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    1. Thank you. I try to make my articles accessible to non-scientific readers but it's sometimes difficult to strike the right balance between that and keeping the scientific readers interested. I'm pleased you learn from them because, to my mind, learning science is worth the effort.

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