The Bump That Wasn’t

Aug 13, 2016

By Lawrence M. Krauss

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

Silver Blaze, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1892

This week a science news story appeared that must have seemed to many like ‘non-news’: Two large experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider reported that they didn’t discover a new particle.

If scientific experiments were reported in the press every time they didn’t make a new discovery, then newspapers would be far thicker than they are.

So what gives? Well, as the epigraph from Sherlock Holmes above makes clear, sometimes observing nothing is quite significant. In this case, had the LHC confirmed the existence of a tentative ‘bump’ that had been seen in data obtained last year, which suggested the existence of a totally unanticipated new elementary particle six times heavier than the recently discovered Higgs particle, it would have been the most important discovery in particle physics in a half-century.

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