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Monday, April 25, 2011

Watching Science in Action

In this day and age of instant news, and a non-stop 24/7 news cycle, with so many news sources trying to rush 'scoops' to print without verification, multiple sources and all the former 'rules of journalism' being followed, we can watch science in action. A great example is a story that was leaked today, about an internal memo of an experimental collaboration at CERN that claims discovery of the Higgs boson. This, by the way, is the most sought-after particle there is in present-day particle physics.

Now, that makes for a cool headline, as it certainly grabbed my attention when I checked in at Yahoo news. The trouble is, the memo was leaked by someone. The collaboration did not make it public. So is this a true memo? Is it a fake or edited version of an actual memo, or completely made up? But it got a headline.

In science, one must be absolutely thorough and careful before publishing any type of result. Once public, any result you have will be fair-game for the full force of scrutiny and criticism the scientific world can muster. A collaboration in particular has real sets of rules that are followed by all members, especially when it comes to 'discovery' claims of any kind...you have the reputation of every single scientist associated with the collaboration at risk. Something does not go public until the collaboration says so collectively. This is why popular journalists can cause issues for groups working on high-profile analyses, because they will take any information they get and run with it. The scientific process is more heavily geared towards accuracy than the modern journalist. Now the general public will see this headline and think some great discovery has been made, which may in fact be the complete opposite of reality.

The morale of the story is to be careful with what you read and what you are supposed to learn, and make sure to have legitimate sources with any type of research you may do in school or elsewhere. Stick with opinions and papers from experts in that particular field, and be aware of possible relevancy and accuracy issues in popular press arrticles.

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