The chart pictured above may represent one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 21st (or even the 20th) century: the first solid evidence of the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle "thought to give everything in the universe its mass."
As this article in the New Scientist relates, the possibility that we may have proof of the existence of the Higgs boson has the science world buzzing. The story unfolded last January, after John Conway presented his discovery on a physics blog and an Italian scientist blogged about data that also seemed to point toward the Higgs boson. At present the statistical analysis doesn't allow formally classifying it as the God particle--there is at a present a 1 in 50 chance that the data reflects a random fluctuation, whereas a particle is typically recognized only when there's a 1 in 10 million chance. Still,
"It's like the first few pages of a thriller," says (Oxford's John) March-Russell. "You get the first little hint that something strange is happening and that things are not quite what they seem. Then the evidence accumulates. We are turning the first few pages of this very interesting story."
Which got me thinking. Nowhere in the New Scientist story do you see scientists hammering John Conway or the rest of the Fermilab/CERN teams for blogging about their discovery, for not waiting for peer review or for presenting a hypothesis based on what they admit is, if it stops here, a statistically insignificant deviation from the norm. Everyone involved, even the skeptics, sees the observed data as something that merits further inquiry, and so the discussion proceeds.
There's a lesson here for efforts to dismiss the latest inquiries into the Talpiot tomb as per se unscholarly or statistically irrelevant. Whatever the ultimate determination, calling attention to a suggestive pattern & putting the data out for the world to examine is not inherently irresponsible. It's what advancing knowledge is all about, especially in a field of study where some say a certain phenomenon is impossible.
The supersymmetric Higgs, the ivory billed woodpecker, Jesus bones or life on Mars--"as with many groundbreaking discoveries, the initial evidence raises more questions than it answers." But we'll never have the answers if we beat down those who dare to ask.