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Sabine Hossenfelder on the physics discoveries that make the headlines and then just disappear

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Exotic particles that don’t survive a news cycle. She shows how they’re artifacts of the fact that very large numbers often show what appear to be patterns but are just noise:

In summary: Possible reasons why a discovery might disappear are (a) fluctuations (b) miscalculations (c) analysis screw-ups (d) systematics. The most common one, just by looking at history, are fluctuations. And why are there so many fluctuations in particle physics? It’s because they have a lot of data. The more data you have, the more likely you are to find fluctuations that look like signals. That, by the way, is why particle physicists introduced the five sigma standard in the first place. Because otherwise they’d constantly have “discoveries” that disappear.

Sabine Hossenfelder, “Particle Physics Discoveries That Disappeared” at BackRe(Action)

Note: Here’s a lucid article that discusses the general topic of finding phantom patterns in very large numbers:

Computers excel at finding temporary patterns. Which contributes to the replication crisis in science. “Statistical significance” should not be the goal. The goal should be true relationships that endure and can be used with fresh data to make useful predictions.

Ephemeral findings are pseudoscience when they appear in low-budget or unfashionable experiments. When ephemeral findings appear in fashionable science, they're URGENT REQUIREMENTS FOR MORE FUNDING. polistra

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