It’s sort of a recurring theme for me, but a recent Washington Post article on the BICEP2 result, among others, has me wanting to repeat the idea, and keep it short and sweet:
The issue at hand is whether BICEP2 has really observed the remnants of cosmic inflation, or if in fact they have misinterpreted their results or made a mistake in the corrections to their measurement. It’s frustrating that the normal process of the scientific method – that is, other experts reviewing a result, trying to reproduce it, and looking for holes – is being dramatized as “backlash.” But let’s not worry today about whether we can ever stop the “science news cycle” from being over-sensationalized, because we probably can’t. You and I can still remember a few simple things about science:
1. If scientists think they’ve found something, they should publish it. They should say what they think it means, even if they might be wrong.
2. Other researchers try to replicate the result, or find flaws with it. If flaws are found or it can’t be reproduced, the original scientists have to go back and figure out what’s going on. If other researchers find the same thing, it’s probably right. If lots of other researchers find the same thing, we can agree it’s almost certainly right and move on to the next level of questions.
3. Science makes progress when you say what you know and the certainty with which you know it. If everything you say is always right, you might be being too timid and delaying the process of other researchers building on your results!
But I think Big Bird says it best of all: