Information Leaks Hurting Scientific Progress

With the stakes so high, should leakers or bloggers be punished for making early findings public?

Keyboard_SmallIn the era of WikiLeaks and Twitter, can anyone keep a secret? Governments have learned that, all too often, the answer is no. Now, as teams of particle physicists close in on one of their biggest targets in decades, they too are struggling to keep confidential data under wraps.

In late April, leaked results from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator, seemed to show a preliminary signal of the Higgs boson. The particle is the LHC’s highest-profile quarry, and would provide evidence of a theoretical mechanism that gives other particles their mass. A fresh analysis published this week has debunked the claim, but researchers are bracing themselves for a string of other false alarms to appear on blogs over the coming months.

Future leaks are “inevitable”, says James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN, the European particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, where the LHC is housed. Proof of the Higgs’ existence will not arrive as a bolt from the blue — instead, it will emerge slowly from weeks or months of data analysis, allowing ample time for each tantalizing step to be documented on blogs.

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Source: Geoff Brumfiel | Nature News