THE Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a machine which will measure events that happen within a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. What no one seems to be able to measure, though, even to an accuracy of several weeks, is when it really opens for business.[...]
The real news, of course, will come when CERN actually finds something. But then, too, the question of “when” will be moot. Scientific discoveries are only occasionally eureka moments. More often, the data have to be collected, reviewed, analysed statistically, found wanting, collected again and analysed again. Eventually, if all has gone well, a clear result will emerge. It then has to be written up, reviewed by critical peers and, if it passes review, published in a scientific journal.
That process is likely to be shorter for the LHC than it is for most scientific papers because the convention in physics is, increasingly, to do without peer review and post papers online, where all and sundry can tear them to shreds if they do not measure up. Moreover, promising but unconfirmed results are likely to leak—particularly if they concern the Higgs boson, the LHC’s famous first target. Scientists can be as garrulous in bars as politicians are.[...]